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Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

Diversity & Inclusion

Harassment & Discrimination

Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know

Have you ever heard of reasonable accommodation? These modifications to a work environment can help individuals with disabilities become more independent, their employees become more inclusive and welcoming, and can improve company productivity and morale. Some may think that accommodations are expensive or difficult to implement, but according to a study by the Job Accommodation Network, 56% of accommodations cost nothing, and the rest typically have a one-time cost of approximately $500. Let’s explore more about the legal requirements and benefits of reasonable accommodations for employees in your organization.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of life. The law extends to jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places open to the public. Title I of the ADA requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, which is considered to be a protected class by the EEOC.

Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications made to a job or work environment that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the job's essential functions. The accommodations provided must be tailored to the individual's needs, and the goal is to allow individuals with disabilities to perform their job duties to the best of their abilities and to fully participate and have an equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace.

Legal Requirements of Reasonable Accommodations

According to the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major activity of daily living. Individuals with disabilities who qualify for employment are people who have the skills, experience, education, or other requirements to perform the "essential functions" of the job, whether they need reasonable accommodations or not. Having a requirement to perform "essential" functions makes sure an applicant won't be disqualified just because they can't perform marginal or incidental work.

It is important to note that the interactive process is a legal requirement under the ADA. An employer's failure to engage in this process can result in legal consequences. Providing reasonable accommodations to disabled employees is not only a legal requirement, but also a best practice for employers who value diversity, inclusion, and employee well-being. Also, note that reasonable accommodations may also extend to individuals from certain religions or spiritualities.

Types of Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA defines physical disabilities as impairments that substantially limit major life activities such as walking, seeing, hearing, and standing. Some common types of accommodations for physical disabilities include: ergonomic equipment, accessible workstations, modified schedules, and telecommuting options like a TTY (Teletypewriter). The workplace may also need to be modified architecturally to make it accessible, such as by installing wheelchair ramps and modifying doorways.

One of the most common types of disabilities individuals face is mental health disability. According to the ADA, a mental health disability is a condition that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as thinking, learning, and concentrating. Mental health disabilities can include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD, and common types of accommodations are flexible work schedules, private workspaces, job restructuring, and additional training/support.

The ADA also protects employees with chronic illnesses, which are long-term conditions that typically require ongoing medical care and may impact an individual's ability to perform essential job functions. Some examples of chronic illnesses include diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and multiple sclerosis. Employees with chronic illnesses may request accommodations, such as modified work schedules, ergonomic workstations, reshaping a job to suit an employee's abilities, access to medical equipment or technology, or reassignment to another position.

Best Practices for Implementing Reasonable Accommodations

Under the ADA, protection is available only if an employee discloses their disability and requests a reasonable accommodation. Once an employee requests reasonable accommodations the employer must engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine appropriate accommodations. This process involves a dialogue between the employee and employer to identify potential barriers in the workplace and explore possible accommodations to overcome those barriers. The employee should communicate their specific needs and limitations. 

At the same time, the employer should provide information about the job's essential functions and explore potential accommodations that would enable the employee to perform those functions. The employer must also be willing to engage in an ongoing dialogue to address possible issues and evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations provided. The interactive process is crucial, and by working collaboratively,  employers can create a more inclusive workplace and ensure that all employees have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Once a reasonable accommodation has been identified, the employer must provide the accommodation in a timely manner. They should regularly assess the effectiveness of the accommodation and communicate with the employee about any changes that might be needed. Employers should make changes as necessary to ensure that employee is able to perform the essential functions of their job.

What to Do if an Accommodation Request is Denied

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause undue hardship. An undue hardship refers to an action that requires significant difficulty or expense in relation to the size and resources of the employer. A case-by-case analysis is needed to figure out if a certain accommodation would cause undue hardship. Factors are considered such as the nature and cost of the accommodation, the employer's financial resources, and how the accommodation would affect the operation and safety of the company. Employers have the burden of proving that a particular accommodation would cause an undue hardship.

If an employee is denied a reasonable accommodation in the workplace, there are several options for resolving the issue. Employees can speak directly to their employer or HR, seek assistance from a disability rights organization, or file a complaint with the EEOC. If they cannot resolve a discrimination complaint through mediation, employees may be able to file a lawsuit. But even without filing a formal complaint with a lawyer or the EEOC, gathering testimony from coworkers who have witnessed discrimination or who can speak to job performance can be helpful when addressing an employer who denies an accommodation request.

Training Employers on ADA Best Practices

The ADA says employers have the following responsibilities when it comes to reasonable accommodations. They must provide accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities, engage in an interactive process, avoid discrimination, ensure confidentiality, communicate effectively, and train supervisors and managers on remaining in compliance with the ADA and providing reasonable accommodations.

If you are looking for the best training on reasonable accommodations for your workforce, your search is over with EasyLlama. Our course on the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as a course specifically addressing Reasonable Accommodations can help teach the employees and supervisors in your company how to create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace. Access your free course preview today to learn more about our engaging and interactive training content!

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