Workplace Accommodations: What’s Reasonable?

According to the ADA – it’s the employer’s responsibility to make “reasonable workplace accommodations” for their employees with disabilities – but how do they define “reasonable”? Let’s look at their definition and what employers need to do.

Defining Reasonable Accommodation

According to The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, reasonable accommodation is a “modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that enables a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity.”

Equal opportunity includes three aspects of employment:

  1. Application process
  2. Qualified candidate performing essential functions
  3. Employee enjoying equal employment privileges and benefits

Accommodation Examples

Both applicants and employees with disabilities can request accommodations at any time during the application process or during the period of employment. These are a few examples of how employers may make reasonable accommodations:

  • Improving accessibility within existing facilities
  • Restructuring jobs
  • Modifying work schedules or providing part-time employment
  • Buying new or modifying existing equipment
  • Modifying test requirements
  • Updating training materials or policies
  • Offering interpreters
  • Offering readers for the visually impaired
  • Reassigning a worker to a vacant position

Individual Rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 applies to all aspects of employment, including advertising jobs, reviewing applications, interviewing potential employees, and conducting post-offer medical examinations. As mentioned, individuals can request accommodations any time during the application process or during the period of employment.

If a disabled individual requests accommodation, the employer should clarify their needs and discuss possible solutions. Employers may initially handle this informally, but may want to document their decision eventually.

Employer Rights

While the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations, they do not have to do so if it will cause them undue hardship. Generally, workplace accommodations should remove workplace barriers or alter processes so the disabled individual has equal opportunities. However, employers have the right to choose the less expensive or burdensome option among many, providing it addresses the issue effectively.

The JAN network publication Employers’ Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act provides specific requirements from advertising through employment for employers that are unsure of their responsibilities. JAN also provides free consulting services for employers seeking accommodation ideas and a comprehensive website with an accommodation search function if they’re struggling to find solutions.

Unreasonable accommodations create an undue burden on the employer. An individual cannot demand the employer removes essential job functions, and they cannot demand they create a new job just for them.

Individuals cannot ask employers to provide items such as mobility aids or eye glasses either, and they cannot ask the employer to provide transportation unless they generally provide transportation for employees. As well, the employer does not have to provide an accommodation which alters the organizational structure or the job purpose.

If an employer reduces an employee’s role from full-time to part-time to accommodate their needs, they do not need to pay full-time benefits unless they do so for all employees switching from full to part-time.

Meeting the criteria of the ADA requires expertise and experience. Many of the clauses in the Act are open to interpretation, but ignoring these requirements can be a costly, time-consuming mistake.

Gilbert’s Risk Solutions is an industry leader in employer ADA compliance and risk management. We offer expert advice so you can choose what’s best for your company and create equality in the workplace.

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