FAQs About Reasonable Workplace Accommodations

FAQs About Reasonable Workplace Accommodations

The reasonable accommodation rule is one of the bedrock principles in the Americans With Disabilities Act. Disabled individuals who are otherwise qualified for a job must, by law, be provided with the tools they need to perform their jobs. 

Employers often use the limited business necessity defense as an excuse to deny reasonable accommodations. But a naked assertion that a requested accommodation is too expensive or inappropriate usually does not hold up in court. A Chicago employment discrimination lawyer can step up and protect your legal rights in these situations.

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

Many people think this phrase implies compromise. For example, if an employee asks for an upgraded office chair due to a lower back condition, an employer might allow the worker to place a throw pillow on the chair back. That might be a compromise, but it is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Generally, accommodations are reasonable if they do not directly threaten the employer, perhaps by undermining morale, or they do not create an undue hardship. There is a big difference between a “hardship” and an “undue hardship.”

Who are Disabled Individuals?

Under the law, individuals qualify for reasonable accommodations when they have any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Epilepsy is a good example. The condition itself is not disabling. The symptoms could be disabling if they are either uncontrollable or medication simply reduces the frequency and severity of seizures. Government disability benefits, such as VA benefits, have little or nothing to do with an ADA disability. People who do not receive these benefits can be disabled for ADA purposes. VA benefits simply make an employment disability easier to establish in court.

What are Essential Functions?

As mentioned, employees must be otherwise qualified to perform their jobs. Furthermore, reasonable accommodations are only available to help people perform essential functions. Let us return to the chair example. Many employers do not consider sitting an essential job function. Employees are hired to work, not to sit. That might be true, but most employers require employees to be behind their desks most of the day. Arguably, therefore, these workers are entitled to protection under the ADA. That means a reasonable accommodation is in order.

What Are Some Examples of Reasonable Accommodations?

In short, a reasonable accommodation is anything necessary to perform essential job functions. Some examples include:

  • Reserved parking,
  • Accessibility tools, like a larger computer screen,
  • Flexible work schedule,
  • Certain software programs or other tools,
  • Alternative formats (e.g. allow workers to deliver reports orally),
  • Job reorganization, and
  • Reassignment to a more appropriate vacant position.

In certain cases, before granting reasonable accommodations, employers can ask for independent verification of the disability and the need for accommodation—more on that below.

What is the Reasonable Accommodation Process?

Employers must consider accommodation requests on a case-by-case basis. A previous denial in a similar situation cannot, by itself, justify a denial in a new situation. Different employers have different procedures. However, the process must always be interactive. At some workplaces, employees make requests and then wait for responses. That process is insufficient. The accommodation must be effective, permanent, and quickly implemented.

Connect with an Experienced Lawyer

It is important to know your rights in the ADA’s reasonable accommodation process. To schedule your free consultation with an experienced Chicago employment discrimination lawyer, contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline.