Disability in the Workplace: Is my accommodation reasonable?
By: Meaghan Kramer*
In honor of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (ADA’s) 30 Year Anniversary, the ACDL is posting a five-part series to educate Arizonans with disabilities about their rights at work. Today’s post is part three of this series and discusses reasonable accommodations under the ADA.
Title I of the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities, except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
Many people with disabilities can apply for and perform their jobs without any accommodation at all. For others, however, accommodations are needed in order for them to be able to overcome barriers in the workplace or in the application process.
Reasonable accommodations are available to all qualified employees or applicants with disabilities – regardless of whether they work full- or part-time, or how long they have been on the job.
A modification or adjustment is reasonable if it seems reasonable or plausible on its face. Accommodations for employees must enable the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her position.
Under the ADA, reasonable accommodations fall into three categories:
- modifications to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position he or she is applying for;
- modifications to the work environment, or to the way the position is customarily performed, that enable an employee/applicant with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; and
- modifications that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities.
What are modifications to the application process?
The first category of reasonable accommodations is modifications to a job application process that allow a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position he or she has applied for.
For example, if an applicant who is deaf requests a sign language interpreter for her job interview for a job as a certified public accountant, the employer would need to provide an interpreter for the interview, unless it would pose significant expense. In most cases, hiring a sign language interpreter for a job interview would not pose a significant expense or difficulty, which the ADA refers to as an “undue hardship.”
What are modifications to the work environment, or the way the position is customarily performed?
The second category of reasonable accommodations covers modifications to the work environment, or to the way the position is customarily performed, that enable an employee/applicant with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position. Most reasonable accommodations fall into this category.
Many jobs can be modified in ways that allow a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job. An employer is never required to change or reallocate an employee’s essential functions in order to accommodate him or her, but the employer can choose to do so.
Examples of modifications to the work environment or adjustments in how and when a job is performed that are listed in the ADA’s definition of reasonable accommodation include:
- making existing facilities accessible;
- job restructuring;
- part-time or modified work schedules;
- acquiring or modifying equipment;
- changing tests, training materials, or policies;
- providing qualified readers or interpreters; and
- reassignment to a vacant position.
This list is not a complete list. There may be other examples of possible reasonable accommodations, such as permitting a service animal to work, hiring a job coach for additional training, granting a telework request, or permitting use of accrued or unpaid leave to get treatment or recover from a disability-related symptom.
If a reasonable accommodation would permit an employee or applicant with a disability to perform the essential functions of his or her position, the employer is required to implement them, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship to the employer.
What are modifications that allow a disabled employee to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as similarly situated non-disabled co-workers?
The third category of reasonable accommodations covers modifications that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities.
Benefits and privileges of employment include, but are not limited to, employer-sponsored:
- services, including employee assistance programs, credit unions, cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation; and
- parties or other social functions.
As an example, if an employer is hosting a company retreat at a venue that requires stairs to access the restroom, the employer may be required to provide a ramp, or to change venues in order to accommodate an employee who has a mobility disability and uses a wheelchair.
If you have questions about reasonable accommodations or undue hardship under the ADA, you can review the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship, or contact our intake department. If you need help identifying possible reasonable accommodations, visit the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which provides free technical assistance and publications about reasonable accommodations under the employment provisions of the ADA. JAN offers instructions and a template reasonable accommodation request form here.
This article is part three of a five-part series that the ACDL is posting to educate Arizonans with disabilities about their rights at work. Check out our earlier Disability in the Workplace posts on the disabilities and employers covered by the ADA, and stay tuned for our future posts, which will include information about the interactive process, and discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
*Meaghan Kramer recently joined the Phoenix office of the Arizona Center for Disability Law. Before joining ACDL, Meaghan spent 9 years in private practice, where she focused on employment law and litigation.
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