According to the EEOC, a reasonable 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.”
Categories of Accommodations
The EEOC defines three categories of accommodations.
- Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for a position they have applied to.
- Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or the way that work is usually done that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.
- Modifications or adjustments that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.
Employers Obligation to Provide Accommodations
Under Title I of the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodation employees and applicants who are qualified with individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Employers are only required to accommodate known disabilities. This means that the person with the disability must disclose their disability to their employer and let them know that they have to do their work differently in order to complete the essential functions of their job.
Initial requests for accommodation do not need to be in writing, and can be made using plain language. Usually, they take the form of “because of X (medical condition or disability), I’m having trouble with Y (job duty).” Employers can ask the person who requested an accommodation to follow up with a form to make the request more formal. If the company does not have a form, they may send an email to the employee confirming the request in order to create a written record of the request. If they employer does not do this, the employee can send an email in order to ensure there is a written record of the request.
Accommodation and the Interactive Process
After this request is made, the employer must initiate the interactive process with the applicant or employee. Both the employer and the employee must be active participants in this process. The employee must respond to employer requests for documentation or more information about their need for accommodation. The employer must act to accommodate the employee in a timely manner, and get limited medical documentation of disability when the need is not obvious. Both the employer and the employee should document their actions during the accommodation process. If a complaint is filed for failure to accommodate, the party who drops the ball during the interactive process is likely to be found at fault.
Who decides what accommodation is put into place?
While the employee should be consulted on an effective accommodation, the employer ultimately chooses what is put into place. The accommodation must be effective in supporting the employee to complete the essential functions of their job.
Reasonable accommodation comes in many forms. They vary according to the position the employee holds and the functional limitation they experience because of the disability or medical condition. Accommodations might include increasing the accessibility of a facility, removing marginal job functions, introducing new equipment or adjusting existing equipment, changing the way that someone is trained or tested, allowing for leave, or providing aids (i.e. a service animal or car service) or services (i.e. interpreters or qualified readers) that allow the person with a disability to approach their work differently. Accommodations such as remote work may or may not be reasonable depending on the essential functions of a position.
What is not Reasonable?
There are several accommodations that are rarely found to be reasonable. These include elimination of essential functions, reducing uniformly applied production standards, providing personal use items (i.e. mobility device, eyeglasses, hearing aids), or change a person’s manager (instead they can ask the manager to change how the interact with an individual to better support them.) An employer can always choose to offer any accommodation it wishes, including those that are not considered reasonable, but is under no obligation to do so.