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What’s A ‘Reasonable’ Workplace Accommodation?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Disabled Businessman and Colleague

It may make you uneasy to do so, but if you’re a job candidate with a disability and need an accommodation, you are allowed to request one at any time during the application process or while you’re employed at a job (provided it’s an employer with at least 15 employees). Even if you didn’t request one when you applied for a job or after receiving a job, you can still ask for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In fact, an accommodation should be requested if you know there is a workplace barrier preventing you from competing for a job, performing a job or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment — like a lunch room or parking lot — you don’t want your job performance to suffer as a result.

An accommodation is considered to be any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables and individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, examples of reasonable accommodations 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
- Reassignment to a vacant position
- Medical leave
- Work from home

On the flip side, the EEOC says that the following examples do not constitute a reasonable accommodation:
- Removing or eliminating essential function from a job
- Lowering production standards
- Providing for personal use items such as a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids or similar devices if they are also needed off the job.

When asking for an accommodation, you do not have to tell the employer about your disability, only that you have one, and that you need an adjustment related to a medical condition. You don’t need to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.”

It’s up to you how much you disclose about your disability. If you choose to disclose only limited information, you may want to tell your employer what you’re having trouble with at work, that the problem is related to a disability and what your accommodation ideas are. Some employers won’t ask for more information. But employers have the right to request additional medical information and if you don’t provide it, the employer can deny your accommodation request.

On the other hand, if you request an accommodation and the need for the accommodation isn’t obvious, an employer may require you to provide medical documentation to establish that you have a disability and need the requested accommodation.

Employers are only required to provide reasonable accommodations if it doesn’t provide “undue hardship” for them. This means significant difficulty in providing a specific accommodation. Undue hardship isn’t just about financial difficulty but also if the accommodations are extensive, substantial or disruptive or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Each request for accommodation is assessed by the employer on a case-by-case basis to determine if it would cause undue hardship.

While requests for a reasonable accommodation don’t have to be in writing, it’s not a bad idea to do so as it provides a paper trail in case there is a dispute about whether or when you requested an accommodation.

For more information about reasonable accommodations, visit The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s website.