What is a reasonable accommodation for a disability?
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment against a “qualified individual with a disability.” Additionally, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) imposes a similar obligation on an even greater number of employers than the ADA does. A qualified individual with a disability is defined as a person with a physical or mental impairment who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. This definition includes many terms that require interpretation or can become the subject of litigation, including what qualifies as an “impairment” and whether a particular job function is an “essential job function” or not. Today we’ll look at the critical element of what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation.” If you have been discriminated against at work in the hiring process or during your employment, contact a skilled and experienced Southern California employment law attorney for help.
Reasonable accommodation defined
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process” that enables “an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job, but successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.” A reasonable accommodation could therefore be required during the job application process as well as during employment and could be required to help the worker perform the job as well as enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment on an equal basis with other employees.
“Reasonable accommodation” is broadly defined on purpose. It is meant to be liberally construed and applied creatively to meet whatever needs the worker may have. If an employee or applicant asks for an accommodation, or if the employer notices that an accommodation may be necessary, it is the employer’s responsibility to engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine if an accommodation is needed and find a reasonable solution to meet the employee’s needs.
Reasonable accommodations can come in many varieties. They can involve physical or structural changes to the workplace, such as installing ramps, widening aisles, or modifying restroom facilities to accommodate a person in a wheelchair. They could include modifying how an office or workspace is laid out, or require an adjustable desk height.
Adaptive and assistive technologies are other examples of accommodations that might be reasonable to provide. These can include technologies such as screen reader software, TTY or other telecommunications devices, and computer software that can be accessed through a keyboard or voice commands instead of a mouse. It might also be necessary to provide written workplace documents such as policies or training materials in alternative formats, such as large print, braille or recorded editions.
Adjustments to the work schedule are another example of reasonable accommodations that might be required. These can include allowing an employee to work at alternative times or alternative locations, take frequent or extended breaks, or have an intermittent work schedule. As the California Civil Rights Department points out, providing leave for medical care is another example of a modification that could qualify as a reasonable accommodation.
Although there are lots of resources employers and employees can utilize for guidance on accommodations, there is no exhaustive list of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation. Instead, the law requires the employer to engage in an interactive process with the employee to find a solution that works.
What is NOT a reasonable accommodation?
By definition, an accommodation that is unreasonable would not be a reasonable accommodation. Also, an accommodation is not a reasonable accommodation if it is not necessary to help the employee perform the essential functions of the job. When the employee and employer can’t agree on whether an accommodation is reasonable or if they have a dispute over what the essential functions of the job are, an experienced employment law attorney can help resolve the dispute by representing the employee in communications with the employer, including through meetings, mediation and litigation if necessary.
Finally, an employer is not required to agree to a requested accommodation if granting the request would create an “undue hardship” for the employer. Both the federal ADA and California’s FEHA define an undue hardship as one that would require “significant difficulty or expense” on the part of the employer, considering the size of the employer, the nature of the operation, the employer’s resources, and other relevant factors. Like “reasonable accommodation,” deciding what constitutes an undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis, and disputes might have to be resolved in or out of court.
Contact an experienced employment law attorney for help with a disability discrimination claim in Southern California
For help protecting yourself and recovering compensation after experiencing disability discrimination in Southern California, including an employer’s failure to provide reasonable accommodation, call Ochoa & Calderón to discuss your case with a dedicated and effective California labor and employment attorney. Call 951-901-4444 in Riverside or 844-401-0750 toll-free throughout Southern California.