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Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Published:  February 6, 2014

Accommodating a disabled employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may seem to be a daunting task. While you want to enable an employee to perform their job, you also want to avoid excessive spending or inconvenience for the company and other employees. To successfully navigate the ADA, employers should make sure they are able to recognize a request for an accommodation, have a procedure in place for considering an accommodation, and be able to choose a reasonable accommodation.

Requests for Accommodations
Requests for disability accommodations rarely use the magic words “I need an accommodation.” Therefore, to comply with the ADA employers and supervisors need to be able to recognize potential needs of employees and have procedures in place to address any requests for accommodations. Under the ADA, an accommodation request is made when an employer is on notice of a possible need for an accommodation. Unfortunately, this is such a broad category that it can be easy to miss an accommodation request. An accommodation request could come in the form of an employee telling you she is diabetic and needs to check her insulin levels every few hours, a learning-disabled employee telling you he has problems processing written speech, or you noticing an employee is having difficulty fitting her wheelchair under her desk. Employers and supervisors should constantly be able to recognize the request for an accommodation so that the situation may be responded to appropriately. Supervisor training is essential to avoid missing a request for accommodation.

Responses to Requests
Soon after the employer knows there may be a need for an accommodation, she should have an interactive conversation with that employee and document it. There are many different accommodations that may be reasonable so it is important to talk with the employee to determine exactly what the issue is and how it might be addressed. This conversation will also allow the employer to recognize all accommodations that would address the issue and determine which is most reasonable and cost effective. As long as the employee is accommodated successfully the employer has wide discretion in which accommodation it chooses. The accommodation need not be the most convenient for the employee, or the one the employee wants most, as long as it manages any issues caused by the disability.

Even if a reasonable accommodation cannot be made it is very important that an employer make the effort to discuss possible accommodations and document the efforts and conversations regarding accommodations. An individual, documented assessment of the relevant circumstances will likely lead to a resolution of the situation or proof that the employer made good-faith efforts to accommodate a disabled individual.

Reasonable Accommodations
An accommodation can be reasonable and necessary if it enables a potential employee to apply for a job based on their qualifications, allows the disabled employee to enjoy workplace “benefits and privileges” in a manner similar to a non-disabled, similarly situated employee, or assists a disabled employee in performing their major job functions.
A reasonable accommodation could mean an interpreter for an interview or giving an oral test when normally the test would be written to allow an applicant a chance to demonstrate their qualifications. A reserved parking space or wheelchair ramp for someone with issues or pain walking, daylight shifts for a sight impaired employee to aid in her travel to and from work, or an alternative to a urine drug test for an employee with kidney failure are all accommodations that would allow the employee to enjoy the workplace benefits and privileges.

The easiest way to violate the ADA is to ignore or not recognize a request for an accommodation. To avoid this make sure your supervisors are properly trained in recognition and management of accommodation requests. Once a request is made, be interactive with the employee and document the process. If a reasonable accommodation is possible then pick the best one and implement it. Very rarely will making an accommodation for an employee rise to the level of an undue burden, but if you believe you are in that situation speak with employment counsel to determine your options.

If you have any questions regarding reasonable accommodations under the ADA, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal LLP at (413) 586-2288.