Employers with 15 or more employees are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations for any employees with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires these reasonable accommodations to ensure that people with qualifying disabilities can perform the essential functions of the job while being able to enjoy the equal benefits and privileges of the position. The ADA also seeks to ensure persons with disabilities are afforded an equal opportunity during the application process.
What are reasonable accommodations?
Any changes to the workplace facility, work space, technology, job responsibilities, or work schedules could constitute a reasonable accommodation. The types of accommodations made will depend on the needs of the applicant/employee as well as the nature of the job itself. Research has shown that many of these accommodations are relatively inexpensive and have the added benefit of positively impacting the workplace for all employees.
Some examples of common reasonable accommodations for employees may include:
- Facility changes – Providing accessible restrooms/workspace, moving furniture, etc.
- Workspace changes – Providing a raised work space, to accommodate a wheel chair, providing a work space with better lighting, air exchange or accessibility, etc.
- Modifying equipment – Changing software, adjusting equipment, etc.
- Allowing a flexible work schedule or restructuring the job duties to remove non-essential functions and/or to reduce the frequency for when essential functions must be performed or the time during which they must be performed; providing for more frequent rest breaks
- Allowing service animals
- Reassigning employee to an open position that fits with their qualifications and abilities
Are employers required to make reasonable accommodations?
Generally, if an individual with a qualified disability requests a reasonable accommodation, or if someone else makes a request on behalf of the person with the disability the employer must begin the interactive dialogue process to determine whether it is able to grant the request and/or whether the request is reasonable or necessary. The request can be made formally (e.g. filling out a request form) or informally (e.g. mentioned during a conversation). The employer must then:
- Determine if the person’s medical condition qualifies them for protection under the ADA.
- If the disability and need for accommodation are not obvious, request reasonable documentation to establish the ADA disability, the need for reasonable accommodation and what accommodations the employee or the employee’s health care provider are suggesting.
- Determine which accommodation to provide – when there are multiple options, an employer may choose the one that is most cost-effective as long as the offered option allows the employee to perform the essential functions of the position.
- Determine whether the accommodation would cause an ‘undue hardship’ to the business, threaten the safety of other employees, or lower quality/production standards. If so, the employer may be able to deny the request.
Determining whether an employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation can be challenging and may require the expertise of an experienced employment law attorney.
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