The Employee’s Practical Guide to Requesting Accommodations

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The Employee’s Practical Guide to Requesting Accommodations was originally published on DiversityComm.

Asking for job accommodations can be difficult, especially if you’ve never done it before or believe that your accommodation might be “too cumbersome.” Luckily, the ADA has protections in place that might allow you to ask for more than you think. Here’s what you need to know:

My Employer and the ADA:

The ADA is a federal civil rights law passed in 1990 and went into effect beginning in 1992. Its purpose is to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, in the programs and activities offered by state and local governments and in accessing the goods and services offered in places like stores, hotels, restaurants, football stadiums, doctors’ offices, beauty parlors and so on.

The focus of this guide is Title I of the ADA, which prohibits discrimination in employment and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Only “covered entities” must comply with Title I of the ADA. The term covered entities includes private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local government employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees. Federal executive agencies are exempt from the ADA, but they must comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is almost identical to the ADA.

Requesting an Accommodation:

You can request an accommodation at any time during the application process or while you are employed. You can request an accommodation even if you did not ask for one when applying for a job or after receiving a job offer. 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 lunchroom or employee parking. As a practical matter, it is better to request an accommodation before your job performance suffers or conduct problems occur because employers do not have to rescind discipline that occurred before they knew about your disability.

According to the EEOC, you only have to let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. You can use “plain English” to make your request, and you do not have to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.”

Here are some examples:

  • Example A: An employee tells her supervisor, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
  • Example B: An employee tells his supervisor, “I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
  • Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
  • Example D: An employee tells his supervisor that he would like a new chair because his present one is uncomfortable. Although this is a request for a change at work, his statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that he is requesting a reasonable accommodation. He does not link his need for the new chair with a medical condition.

Requests for reasonable accommodation do not have to be in writing, so you can request accommodations in a face-to-face conversation or using any other method of communication. Your employer may choose to write a memo or letter confirming your request or may ask you to fill out a form or submit the request in written form, but the employer cannot ignore your initial request. However, you may want to put your request in writing even if your employer does not require it. Sometimes it is useful to have a paper trail in case there is a dispute about whether or when you requested accommodation.

What Can I Request?

In general, 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. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide “reasonable” accommodations for employees with disabilities. Therefore, you can request any accommodation that is considered “reasonable.”

Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations from the EEOC:

  • 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
  • reassignment to a vacant position
  • medical leave
  • work at home

The following are not considered forms of reasonable accommodation and therefore not required under the ADA:

  • removing or eliminating an essential function from a job
  • lowering production standards
  • providing personal use items such as a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids or similar devices if they are also needed off the job

Note: While employers are not required to eliminate an essential function, lower a production standard or provide personal use items, they can do so if they wish.

The only limitation on an employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodations is that no such change or modification is required if it would cause “undue hardship” to the employer. “Undue hardship” means significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer concerning 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.

What if My Request is Denied?

If your employer denies your request, try to find out why so you know what to do next. For example, if your employer denied your request because your medical information did not show that you have a disability, you can provide additional information. Or, if your employer decided that the accommodation you requested would pose an undue hardship, you may want to suggest other options.

If you do not think your employer had a valid reason to deny your request, or the employer will not tell you why the request was denied, you have options. You can appeal the decision by going up the chain of command, filing a grievance with your union if you have one, or filing a complaint with the EEOC or your state enforcing agency.

Source: Job Accommodation Network

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