The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a significant law passed in 1990 and revised in 2008, is a pivotal piece of legislation safeguarding the rights of individuals with both visible and invisible physical disabilities, as well as mental health conditions like autism and PTSD. It guarantees equal opportunities for people with disabilities to obtain employment, receive goods and services, and participate in government programs alongside others. Various federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, enforce and investigate ADA-related complaints.
The ADA is divided into five titles, each outlining regulations for specific entities. Title I focuses on employment and is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces the ADA for state and local government employment. Under Title I, employment agencies, labor organizations, private employers, and state and local governments are prohibited from discriminating against qualified individuals in all aspects and privileges of employment. It's important to note that the ADA does not mandate employers to hire a person with a disability if a more qualified applicant is available.
Obligations of employers to provide reasonable accommodations
Employers must offer reasonable accommodations to employees who have disabilities. A reasonable accommodation refers to a modification or adjustment in the work environment or job duties that enables an employee with a disability to engage in the job application process, fulfill essential functions of the job, or enjoy employment benefits. Examples of reasonable accommodations may include implementing a part-time schedule, reassignment to an available or vacant position, adapting training materials, or arranging for a sign language interpreter. However, employers are not obligated to provide accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship or pose a significant risk to the business.
Requesting reasonable accommodations
Revealing your disability and requesting accommodations can be daunting, as there is no definitive approach. However, you can take steps to minimize the chances of experiencing disability employment discrimination or retaliation.
Before requesting accommodation, it is essential to carefully consider what accommodations would be most beneficial for your situation. If you are uncertain which changes or adjustments would enhance your job performance, online resources provide suggestions and examples of common accommodation types. In addition, seeking guidance from healthcare providers or disability specialists can help identify effective accommodations. Having multiple ideas in mind is advisable, as this allows for flexibility and increases the likelihood of finding the most suitable accommodation.
After determining the accommodations that would be most beneficial for your situation, there are three essential steps to request those accommodations effectively:
- Inform your Human Resources department or relevant authority about your disability and clearly explain how the requested accommodation will assist you in performing your job duties.
- Engage in the interactive process, which involves having a constructive dialogue with your employer to discuss possible accommodation options. This process may include sharing relevant medical information or documentation to support your request.
- Maintain periodic follow-up discussions with your employer to ensure that the provided accommodation meets your needs effectively. These conversations allow for adjustments or modifications if necessary.
To begin, it is essential to disclose your disability to your employer. Employers are obligated to provide accommodations only for known disabilities. You do not need to use a specific formula or set of words when making the request. Simply expressing that you require something due to your disability or medical condition is enough to qualify as a request for accommodation. In addition, you are not required to use the phrase "reasonable accommodation." This request can be communicated either in writing or through a face-to-face conversation. The key is effectively conveying that you need an accommodation based on your disability, ensuring that your employer knows your needs.
Step two involves participating in the interactive process. Once you have made your accommodation request, your employer may respond by granting the request, denying it, or initiating a discussion to determine the most suitable accommodation for your needs. In addition, your employer might ask you to submit a written request or fill out a specific form. In some cases, they may also require medical documentation or additional information to establish that you have a disability and support the need for accommodation. These steps are part of the interactive process, which entails open communication between you and your employer to agree on the appropriate accommodation.
Your employer can grant your accommodation request immediately, which is the most straightforward outcome. However, it's important to note that not all employers can fulfill every accommodation request. Instead, your employer may inform you they cannot grant the specific accommodation you requested. Nevertheless, they might be willing to collaborate with you to find an alternative solution that meets your needs. Your employer is not obligated to approve your initial accommodation request, even if it would enable you to perform the essential job functions effectively, as long as they demonstrate that granting the accommodation would result in undue hardship or pose a direct threat.
This is where the interactive process becomes crucial. The interactive process aims to comprehend the challenges you face in your workplace and develop solutions that alleviate or eliminate those barriers without excessively burdening your employer. Both you and your employer are responsible for actively participating in this process. Both parties can suggest accommodations or explain why a particular option may not be feasible. By collaborating, the goal is to find a solution that benefits everyone involved and ensures effective accommodation.
There may be instances where employers outright deny your accommodation request. In such cases, motivating your employer to engage in the interactive process can be challenging. Requesting an accommodation for your disability is a deeply personal matter, and experiencing denial or resistance can feel like a direct attack on your identity. If you suspect the denial stems from malicious intent or discrimination, seeking legal assistance from an attorney may be necessary.
However, it is essential to recognize that employers may deny accommodation requests for legitimate business reasons rather than discrimination. For instance, a request could be denied if it would create an "undue hardship" for the employer or pose a "direct threat" to the safety of your coworkers. These denials are based on practical considerations and are not meant to discriminate against you or your disability.
An undue hardship refers to an accommodation that would impose substantial difficulty or excessive expense on your employer. When assessing whether your requested accommodation would result in an undue hardship, several factors need to be considered:
- The nature and cost of the accommodation: This involves evaluating the specific requirements and expenses associated with implementing the accommodation.
- The overall financial resources of your employer and the facility: Consideration is given to your employer's financial capabilities and resources, including the impact of the accommodation on their budget.
- The impact of the accommodation on the operations of your employer and the facility: Assess the potential effects of the accommodation on the day-to-day operations, productivity, and functionality of your employer and the workplace as a whole.
It is essential to note that determining whether an accommodation would result in an undue hardship is a highly contextual assessment. What may be considered an undue hardship for one employer may not be the case for another, as it depends on various factors such as the size, resources, and nature of the business. Therefore, each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis based on its unique circumstances.
A direct threat refers to an accommodation that presents a significant safety risk. Establishing a direct threat involves meeting specific criteria, which include the following:
“1. a significant risk of substantial harm; 2. The specific risk must be identified; 3. It must be a current risk, not one that is speculative or remote; 4. The assessment of risk must be based on objective medical or other factual evidence regarding a particular individual; and 5. Even if a genuine significant risk of substantial harm exists, the employer must consider whether the risk can be eliminated or reduced below the level of a direct threat by reasonable accommodation.”
If the initial accommodation you propose is found to create an undue hardship or pose a direct threat, your employer is obligated to consider the viability of alternative accommodations. If a second accommodation option that does not impose an undue hardship or direct threat is available, your employer must grant that accommodation instead.
Maintaining ongoing communication with your employer regarding your accommodations throughout your employment is crucial. Regular meetings should be scheduled to discuss the effectiveness of your current accommodation(s) and address any concerns or issues that may arise. These periodic meetings serve as an opportunity to ensure that your needs are being met appropriately and explore alternative options that might better fulfill your requirements. By actively engaging in these discussions, you can work with your employer to find the most suitable accommodations for your evolving needs.
Requesting reasonable accommodation in the workplace is an essential entitlement that guarantees equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities, including yourself and fellow employees. Employers are responsible for fostering an inclusive environment enabling all individuals to excel in their roles while accommodating their needs.
If you believe that you are experiencing disability discrimination or facing retaliation at work due to your disability, we encourage you to reach out to the Veterans Advocacy Law Group. Our team of experienced Employment and Labor attorneys is dedicated to reviewing your claim and assessing the accommodation(s) you have requested. We are committed to ensuring that your rights are upheld and that you have equal and equitable access to employment opportunities. We will advocate for you and support your pursuit of fair and unbiased treatment in the workplace.