Reasonable accommodations are your right under the ADA as someone living with disability. Understanding your rights under the ADA is the best way to advocate for yourself and have the information you need.~Ken Meeker
Knowledge is Power – Common Myths About Disability
Table of Contents
Part 2 – What is “Reasonable” in Accommodations
Many people living with disability experience some anxiety about when and how to ask for reasonable accommodations at their place of employment or during the process of seeking out a job. Common questions are when is the right time? Who to ask when seeking an accommodation? What can the employer ask for as documentation for the need of the accommodation? What should they do if the employer denies the accommodation?
Below are answers to these and a few other questions with regard to reasonable accommodations at work.
When is the right time to seek a reasonable accommodation?
According to The Job Accommodation Network, better known as AskJAN, “In general, you should request an accommodation when you know that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing you, due to a disability, from competing for a job, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment like an employee lunch room or employee parking.” Basically, once aware that an accommodation is needed is when the process should begin. Yes, seeking a reasonable accommodation is a process.
- Request an accommodation before job performance suffers or conduct problems occur because employers do not have to rescind discipline that occurred before they knew about your disability (AskJAN.org).
- Reasonable accommodation requests do not have to be in writing. They can be requested in a face-to-face conversation or using any other method of communication. However, it is recommended that any conversations be documented and followed up in writing.
- When a reasonable accommodation is requested, an employee should be engaged with the employer to guide them as to how the accommodation is needed. Conducting research about the types of accommodations available and a willingness to find a solution that meets the needs of the employee while simultaneously meeting the needs of the employer is likely to result in a better outcome.
- If an accommodation is denied, find out why. There are few reasons an employer can flat out deny a reasonable accommodation. They are:
- The accommodation is seeking to remove or eliminate an essential job function.
- The accommodation seeks to lower production standards.
- Employers are not required to provide accommodations that are for items that will be used outside of work, such as: eyeglasses, prosthetics, wheelchairs, or another personal item.
- The accommodation would cause an undue hardship for the employer.
What counts as a “reasonable accommodation?”
All of the following can be considered “reasonable accommodations” under the right circumstances.
- making existing facilities accessible
- job restructuring
- part-time or modified work schedules
- acquiring or modifying equipment
- changing tests, training materials, or policies to make them accessible
- providing qualified readers or interpreters
- reassignment to a vacant position
- medical leave
- working at home or hybrid work*
*Note – Employers are not required to provide remote work or hybrid work options in all situations.
Where to send a reasonable accommodation request.
There can be confusion as to who or where a request for a reasonable accommodation should go to. AskJAN suggests letting “anyone in management know that you need an accommodation. If there is a specific person in charge of accommodations, your request may be forwarded to that person.” They also suggest copying either HR or another supervisor about the request. Employers are prohibited from sharing anything about the requested accommodation with anyone unless there is a specific need in order to complete the requested accommodation.
What can an employer ask for as documentation?
Generally, an employer may only “request additional medical information when an employee requests an accommodation and the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious, an employer may require that the employee provide medical documentation to establish that the employee has an ADA disability and needs the requested accommodation.” The employer is prohibited from making the requested documentation overly burdensome to the employee. Only under rare circumstances can a medical exam be required – employers cannot ask someone with a disability to submit to an exam, unless the exam is required by all employees.
How to handle a denied accommodation request.
If an employer denies your requested accommodation(s), there are a few things to consider.
- Why is the request being denied? As stated above, an employer can only deny a requested accommodation for a limited number of reasons. If they claim an undue hardship, the employer needs to be able to clearly show what that hardship is.
- “Undue hardship” means significant difficulty or expense. Focused on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. Undue hardship refers not only to financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. An employer must assess on a case-by-case basis whether a particular reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship.
- If there is reason to believe a request was improperly denied, the employee has the right to appeal the decision by taking the request up the chain of command, filing a grievance if they are part of a union, or by filing a complaint with the EEOC or state agency.
- Only employers with fifteen (15) or more employees are required under the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations.
Additional things to keep in mind.
There is no limit to the number of reasonable accommodations an employee can request.
Employers are prohibited from retaliating against an employee who requests an accommodation.
Know what Federal and State resources are available to help you during the process. AskJAN.org provides a wealth of resources and information for the employee and employer. In many situations there are employees at AskJAN that will work with an employee and employer to help find a solution to provide reasonable accommodations.
Reasonable accommodations are your right under the ADA as someone living with disability. Understanding your rights under the ADA is the best way to advocate for yourself and have the information you need.
By: Ken Meeker CPC
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About The Author
Ken Meeker CPC is the owner of Vitality Career Coaching LLC, a boutique leadership coaching company. His work includes creating inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible opportunities for employment through consulting and training workshops.
He is Inclusive Behaviors Inventory Certified, a Certified ADA Coordinator, graduate of the AFB Blind Leaders Program. Ken is a recognized leader for disability and blind/low vision advocacy as the recipient of the 2023 AFB Llura Gund Leadership Award. Additionally, Ken is enrolled in the 2023 NCDA Leadership Academy. He has been a featured speaker in numerous seminars, summits, a featured guest on multiple podcasts, and is the creator and host of the “Dissing My Ability’ Podcast. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/kenmeekeraz, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://vitalitycareercoaching.com
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- Flexible Work Schedule Agreement form is an exammple of a reasonable accommodation.
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