How Reasonable Accommodations Work on the Job

Your employer should make accommodations to your job or work space so that you can work despite an illness or injury.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, except where providing reasonable accommodation would cause "undue hardship" to the employer. The employer can accommodate by modifying the work environment or the process by which a job is performed to allow employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits.

Reasonable Accommodation

An accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.  There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • changes to the application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position  
  • modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the circumstances or manner in which the job is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the job's essential functions, or
  • changes to enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by other employees.

Reasonable modifications include:

  • making existing facilities accessible
  • modifying work schedules
  • acquiring or modifying equipment
  • providing readers or interpreters, or
  • reassigning the employee to a vacant position.

An accommodation must effectively meet the employee's needs. However, an employer is under no obligation to adjust or modify where the change eliminates an essential function. If a person with a disability cannot perform the job's essential function, he or she is not qualified for the job under the ADA. Additionally, the employer does not have to provide personal use items needed outside the job, such as prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, or eyeglasses, or any benefits not provided to employees without disabilities.

Undue Hardship

An employer is not required to provide an accommodation that would cause "undue hardship" to the employer.  "Undue hardship" includes any change that is significantly difficulty or expensive, disruptive, or that would alter the nature of the business or operations.

Request for Reasonable Accommodation

It is up to the employee to request a reasonable accommodation. The employee can request accommodation during employment or even at the time of the application process. The request does not have to be in writing nor use the exact language of the ADA. The employee or a representative need only indicate to the employer that the requested accommodations relates to a medical condition.

Once an employee requests accommodation, the employer must begin what the ADA calls a "flexible, interactive process" to come up with an effective accommodation for the employee. Undue delays in responding to an accommodation request violate ADA stipulations. The employer need not provide the precise accommodation the employee requests, as long as the employer comes up with an effective accommodation. Additionally, an employer cannot force a disabled employee to accept any accommodation he or she does not want. However, if a disabled employee refuses an effective accommodation to perform an essential function, he or she may not be qualified to remain in the job.

Find an Attorney

If you are a qualified person with a disability under the ADA's definition, and your employer has failed to provide reasonable accommodations for your disability, you may bring an action against the company for violation of the ADA. Talk with an attorney experienced with the ADA to discuss your case.

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