What is the Right to Reasonable Work Accommodation?

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) required employers to provide a reasonable accommodation in the workplace to allow workers with a disability to perform their duties. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their disabilities.

Understanding what this means is not easy. Today, we want to talk about what a reasonable work accommodation means and how this could affect you.

What does reasonable accommodation mean?

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says that “The law forbids discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other term or condition of employment.”

When we discuss the accommodations that employers must make for workers with disabilities, the word “reasonable” is important. Under ADA guidelines (which are interpreted broadly) employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities unless doing so would pose an undue hardship to the employer.

Qualified employees are those who:

  • Have the necessary skills, certifications, degree, and experience for the job
  • Can perform the job’s essential functions with or without an accommodation

What do these accommodations typically look like?

Workplace accommodations for employees take many forms and depend on the nature of the disability. Most accommodations are relatively inexpensive or do not cost anything to implement. Some of the common accommodations include:

  • Making existing facilities and equipment usable for disabled employees. This can include changing the height of desks to allow for a wheelchair to fit underneath, installing computer screen magnifiers, and installing telecommunications assistance for the deaf.
  • Restructuring jobs around the disability. This could include modifying a worker’s hours and days to allow for them to get the required medical treatment. This does not have to mean they work fewer hours; rather, it can mean longer hours on certain days.
  • Allowing for a reasonable amount of unpaid leave for medical treatment. This may already be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Transferring a worker to the same job or to a similar job at a different location so they have more accommodations or so they can obtain better medical care.

What is an unnecessary hardship for the employer?

Employers do not have to make accommodations if it would place an undue hardship on them, which has been defined as a significant difficulty or expense. The EEOC is the federal agency responsible for enforcing ADA requirements in the workplace and has set out factors to use when determining undue hardships:

  • The nature and cost of an accommodation
  • The financial resources of the employer
  • The nature of the business
  • Accommodation costs already incurred at the workplace

It is understandable that people must meet certain physical requirements for particular jobs (police, fire, high rise construction, etc.). However, most jobs can be done by people with disabilities without the accommodations becoming an undue burden on the employer.

Harassment and retaliation are forbidden

The ADA forbids employers from harassing an employee for having a disability and from retaliating against them for requesting a reasonable accommodation under the law. Harassment can include teasing, offhand comments, creating a hostile work environment for the employee, and threats. A disabled employee cannot be fired for requesting an accommodation or reporting instances of their employer failing to follow ADA requirements.