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What is "reasonable accommodation" for disabled employees?

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees from workplace discrimination due to disability. One of the protections it extends is the requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations to allow an employee with a disability to participate in the workplace.

The issue of what counts as a reasonable accommodation can be complex. It often depends on variables such as the type of position, the resources of the company and the nature of the disability.

Accommodations should focus on essential job functions

Generally, under the ADA, reasonable accommodation refers to adjustments that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the position. The law does not require employers to provide accommodations that would impose undue hardships on the company or would be unsafe for the employee or other people.

Reasonable accommodations can take various forms

Common types of available accommodations include allowing additional time off, agreeing to a flexible schedule, assigning nonessential functions to other workers and ensuring wheelchair access in necessary areas. Employers may also have the obligation to provide an assistive device necessary for the specific job.

Inform the employer

Employees bear the responsibility of informing employers of the disability, how it affects their ability to do their jobs and what accommodations they need. While a written request is not a requirement, it is usually better to do so for documentation purposes. If an employee must use this correspondence, the written, dated request can show that the employer knew of the condition and thus had the obligation to attempt accommodation.

How to tell if an employer is making excuses or facing legitimate hardship

A common reason employers give for refusing a proposed accommodation is that it imposes an undue hardship on them. The law defines undue hardship as "significant difficulty or expense." Whether a particular company would experience hardship depends on factors such as its size and resources. A small business must meet different standards than a multinational corporation.

Unfortunately, in many cases, employers are all too eager to say that accommodating is too hard. If you are experiencing this challenge, an experienced attorney can help you gauge the situation and advocate for your rights as an employee.

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