1. What is Reasonable Accommodation
2. The Right to Reasonable Accommodation
3. More about What is a Reasonable Accommodation
4. Resources for Reasonable Accommodation
5. Examples of Reasonable Accommodation
6. Benefits of Reasonable Accommodation
7. Accommodation, Not Special Treatment
8. Negotiating an Accommodation
9. What if the Employer Denies a Request for Reasonable Accommodations?
10. Undue Hardship Clause for Employers
11. Cost of Accommodating a Worker’s Disability

What is Reasonable Accommodation

What is reasonable accommodation? It is defined as the assistance or delivery of conditions and surroundings or the modification of some aspect of the job or job site that provides a qualified employee or job applicant with a disability with the equal ability to do the job necessities as an employee or applicant without a disability.

The Right to Reasonable Accommodation

As per Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which is also known as the ADA, any employer with at least 15 employees must provide qualified persons with disabilities with what is reasonable accommodation. The ADA exists to protect any employee with a disability against discrimination due to the disability. This applies to permanent, long-term, or chronic disabilities.

Employers who must follow the guidelines of the ADA are:

  • Private employers with 15 or more employees
  • Labor unions
  • Government organizations
  • Employment agencies

The ADA’s protections apply only to work-related activities, not to those activities outside of the workplace. This Act and, therefore, the requirement to provide reasonable accommodation, applies to both employees and job applicants of the employers listed above. Thus, the person protections apply to the job application process in addition to the working conditions and employment benefits, as these things allow employees and applicants with disabilities to do their jobs and have equal opportunities to those who do not have disabilities.

If an employee has a disability, he or she can approach the employer to request an alteration to a particular aspect of the work position, which is typically a reasonable accommodation. An employer must provide a reasonable accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and any other relevant state laws, such as the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. The latter act protects qualified persons with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace.

More about What is a Reasonable Accommodation

Certain employers must provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA, except when doing so would cause undue hardship. To be given a job offer, to begin with, the employer must be fairly sure that the applicant is qualified and can do the major activities required of the job. Qualified employees refer to those who have the necessary job experience and can perform the essentials of the job, with or without an accommodation.

Resources for Reasonable Accommodation

The JAN or the Job Accommodation Network is a free consulting service from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, through the U.S. Department of Labor. It exists to increase the employability of disabled persons by offering custom workplace accommodation remedies. JAN gives technical guidance for the ADA and other disability-related laws and also educates people about self-employment choices available.

RESNA or the Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistance Technology Society of North America is an interdisciplinary organization that aims to better the potential of persons with disabilities using technology. It supports the research, education, advocacy, development, and delivery of technology. RESNA encourages those who are working in those mentioned areas as well as disabled people.

RID or the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. is a national organization of professional members. RID provides sign language services, both in interpreting and transliterating). The services are specifically for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

EEOC or the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces the ADA’s prohibition of job discrimination. The EEOC coordinates and oversees all federal equal opportunity laws, policies, and practices too.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodation

  • Modify existing facilities to be usable by disabled employees
    • Examples are changing desk heights, altering equipment, putting in brighter lighting, adding PC screen magnifiers, or installing telecommunication devices
    • Also, can include putting enough space between desks and in restrooms for wheelchairs
  • Job restructuring
    • Examples are providing a part-time workweek or different hours
  • Changing tests and training resources
    • Examples include allowing an oral test instead of a written one or providing additional time to write the test
  • Additional hirings
    • Examples include the hiring short-term workplace specialists for training assistance or the hiring interpreters or readers for on-the-job help
  • Altering workplace benefits
    • An example is allocating a reasonable amount of unpaid leave for medical care
  • Job transfers
    • An example is providing an employee a job transfer to another facility (same position) for better medical treatment
  • Job duty modifications
    • For example, holding meetings or other activities at a site easier for both employees with disabilities and managers to access
    • Also, can include providing bigger type for all written materials to a visually impaired worker
  • Educational resources
    • Teaching and changing co-workers’ views toward disabled employees

Not all of these listed accommodations will work for every workplace. This is why what is reasonable accommodation is decided on a case by case basis. Also, several people with psychiatric disabilities require no accommodation.

Benefits of Reasonable Accommodation

Once what is reasonable accommodation is decided, this modification or change can help an employee get back to work from a medical or disability leave faster. In turn, treatment expenses are less the sooner the individual returns to being productive. Many people also want to feel more productive again too.

Plus, the alterations, including changes to work schedules or training materials, are usually not very different from those things available to all employees. This means they are often beneficial to all workers, instead of just to workers who have disabilities.

Accommodation, Not Special Treatment

If a reasonable accommodation means providing medical-related adaptations for the disabled individual, such as time off work for doctor appointments, the employee ought to be straightforward with the employer right from the start. Agreement on the alterations that will not make disabled employees appear too different from the remaining staff is integral unless the employee is open to discussing the circumstances with co-workers.

Typically, the best strategy is for the employer and employee to agree on what is reasonable accommodation for the particular situation. When it is a cooperative solution, then the outcome is usually one in which everyone is more satisfied. Then other employees are less likely to wonder if workers with disabilities are getting preferential treatment.

Negotiating an Accommodation

The creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act has led to an influx of workplace experts who provide advice for employers on how to best follow the ADA. These specialists provide tips and checklists for helping employers meet the regulations. Thus, it makes sense for both employers and employees to look over these checklists when determining an alteration that satisfies everyone.

Deciding what is reasonable accommodation includes isolating the job’s necessary functions and writing down the work-related limits that the specific disability has and how modifications can provide ways to overcome those limits. It is also helpful to determine how long the accommodation would likely be usable before a change would be necessary. Costs and obtainability are additional considerations in determining the best accommodation. The decision-making process is not a go-ahead to access the worker’s full medical history.

If break spaces are not easy for employees with physical disabilities to get to, these employees might approach their employers with a reasonable demand to for an accessible area for taking breaks. As the employer does not have to make other workers use this space, it can be an isolating time for the individual with the disability. In this situation, it would be better for the employee and employer to sit down and come up with a more suitable remedy.

Typically, employers and employees negotiate solutions when it comes to providing accommodations. The process often begins in this way:

  • Employee approaches employer with adaptation request
  • Employer and employee meet; each brings suggestions and expect to negotiate the solution
  • Interactive process begins to determine the most suitable accommodation

Employers do not have to provide the exact accommodation requested by disabled employees but must have quality conversations with these employees about what will be workable and what is reasonable accommodation. An employer has to make reasonable attempts to figure out the suitable accommodation for the employee through consultations and must give first consideration to this employee’s preferred modification. If there is a more inexpensive option, the employer can choose it instead, as long as it meets the employee’s needs and is appropriate.

Sometimes the employer and employee do not agree on what is reasonable accommodation. If this happens, an accommodation specialist or Department of Rehabilitation Counselor can be helpful. The employer may also want to reach out to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a related state governmental body, such as the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

What if the Employer Denies a Request for Reasonable Accommodations?

In this case, an employee can file a complaint under the disability discrimination protections of Title I. This complaint is filed with the EEOC, whether it be by phone or online at its website eeoc.gov. The request must be filed within certain timeframes, as per the applicable state, and if the EEOC provides a right-to-sue letter, then the employee can sue within a specific number of days of receiving such letter. Employers need to be aware of this right to sue under Title 1 in court before turning down a requested accommodation of an employee with a qualified disability.

If an employee decides to seek a legal solution, this individual can file a charge of discrimination with the DFEH within a year of the date of the alleged act. If the employee wants to go to court, he or she must file a lawsuit in state court within a year of the DFEH’s issuance of the right-to-sue notice. If the employee has an ADA-related grievance in addition to the DFEH complaint, this must be filed with the either the DFEH or the EEOC within a certain time.

Undue Hardship Clause for Employers

In general, employers' welcome suggestions from employees as to what would help them. But they are not responsible for providing anything that would cause an undue hardship, meaning a substantial burden or cost.

What would be an undue hardship varies from one case to another. Defining undue hardship depends on many factors, including:

  • Expense of the accommodation
    • As well as the cost of other accommodations already provided in this particular workplace
  • Nature of the accommodation
  • Business size
  • Business resources
  • Type of business
    • Including structure and composition

For a big corporation, it is the expectation that elevators and restrooms will accommodate wheelchairs, as will any workspace that an employee in a chair would require the use of. For a small company, however, requesting an elevator would likely be unreasonable and, therefore, be an undue hardship. Other options exist for accommodating an individual in a wheelchair.

For an employer to demonstrate that adding an elevator would be an undue hardship, objective evidence would be necessary to provide, such as it being too expensive or its adoption being overly disruptive to this company’s work environment. It is the federal EEOC’s responsibility to enforce the ADA, and this governmental body has set out some factors for determining whether providing a certain accommodation would be an undue hardship on a specific employer, including the cost and details of the particular accommodation, the employer’s monetary resources, and more. Courts will also analyze other monetary sources, such as tax deductions and credits for making the employee accommodations, and the willingness of the employee to pay partial or all of the expenses.

Cost of Accommodating a Worker’s Disability

As per many accommodation specialists, the monetary amount employers would be required to pay to accommodate a certain worker’s disability is usually shockingly low, with many of them costing under $1,000, and about a third of the accommodations being free. For example, suppose an employee with an eye-related disability finds the glare from the computer screen to cause fatigue. What is reasonable accommodation? The employer provides an anti-glare screen for this worker’s computer screen at the cost of less than $40.

Other low-cost examples for accommodating an employee’s disability are:

  • An employer purchases a $50 waist pod to accommodate an employee who lost the use of one hand, so this worker can still operate a camera in the job position and retain employment with the company
  • A business pays $20 for a pair of ergonomic scissors to accommodate a dress maker who cannot use regular scissors due to wrist pain, so this person can continue to do the job essentials
  • $50 is the price to buy a light probe that detects a lighted button; this device helps a blind receptionist who cannot see a work telephone’s lights flashing when the phone lights ring to indicate an incoming call, a call on hold, or a line already in use
  • $100 is the most an employer typically has to pay for a reasonable accommodation for a person with a psychiatric disability
  • A deaf medical specialist requires an indicator light as he or she cannot hear the ring of a timer that is necessary for the job; an employer provides this device for under $30
  • An employee in a wheelchair cannot use a desk as it is too low, so an employer puts wooden blocks under the desk’s legs to raise it, so the wheelchair now fits underneath it. This costs the employer absolutely nothing: it is a free alteration

If an employee approaches you as the employer with an accommodation request and you are unsure what is reasonable accommodation, and your options under current legislation, the help of a legal professional can be useful. The same is true of an employee who has had an accommodation denied by the employer. In either situation, you may want to you post your legal need in our UpCounsel Marketplace to find employment attorneys who can answer your questions and help you navigate the often complex waters of state and federal law. The Marketplace contains lawyers from leading businesses, including Menlo Ventures and Google, who come from some of the best schools, including Harvard Law and Yale Law.