Disability Accommodation

Posted on November 1, 2015 by Rick Rossignol

Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees’ and applicants’ known physical or mental disabilities unless they can show that these accommodations would cause undue hardship. Effective Jan. 1, 2016, employers cannot retaliate or otherwise discriminate against employees and applicants for requesting reasonable accommodations, regardless of whether their request is granted.

Reasonable accommodations are work modifications or adjustments that enable employees and applicants with disabilities to receive equal consideration for a job, perform essential job duties or have the same employment benefits and privileges as similarly situated employees without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations can include:

  • making facilities readily accessible to employees and applicants with disabilities (for example, by providing accessible break rooms, restrooms or reserved parking spots)
  • job restructuring
  • providing part-time or modified work schedules
  • reassigning employees to vacant positions
  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
  • adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies
  • providing assistive aids and services such as qualified readers or interpreters
  • allowing employees and applicants with disabilities to bring assistive animals to the workplace
  • altering when or how essential job duties are performed and providing paid or unpaid leave for treatment and recovery

Undue hardship means actions that require significant difficulty or expense based on:

  • the nature and cost of accommodations
  • affected facilities’ overall financial resources and workforce size
  • the impact of accommodations on expenses, resources and facility operations
  • employers’ overall financial resources and overall business size in terms of workforce size and number, type and location of facilities
  • employers’ type of operations, including workforce composition, structure, and functions and
    affected facilities’ geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship.

Interactive process: Employers must engage in a timely, good-faith, interactive process with employees and applicants who have known physical or mental disabilities to identify and implement effective, reasonable accommodations. Employers must participate in this process before claiming that accommodations would cause undue hardship. Employers are not required to eliminate essential job duties as an accommodation but might need to accommodate employees and applicants with disabilities in a way that enables them to meet quality or quantity standards.

Employers must initiate the interactive process when:

  • employees and applicants request reasonable accommodations;
  • they become aware of employees’ and applicants’ need for reasonable accommodations through a third party or direct observation of employee’s exhaust leave under relevant federal or state leave laws and require additional time to recuperate or other accommodations to perform essential job duties.

Employees and applicants with disabilities must:

  • provide reasonable medical documentation, if requested, to confirm the existence of their disabilities and their need for reasonable accommodations
  • provide information about their educational qualifications and work experience if their reassignment to another position is considered as accommodation and communicate directly with employers when possible.

Employers can require employees and applicants who request accommodations to provide reasonable medical information, including second opinions. If employees need reasonable accommodations that extend beyond one year, employers can ask them to provide medical documents substantiating their need for these accommodations on an annual basis. Employers must grant reasonable accommodation requests or reject them after considering them and discussing alternative accommodations with employees and applicants. Employers have the right to choose among effective accommodations, but cannot require employees and applicants with disabilities to accept accommodations and cannot retaliate against them for refusing accommodations. Employers can, however, inform employees and applicants that refusing accommodations might make them unable to perform their essential job duties.

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