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Employees' Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Male employee shakin hands

II. REQUESTING AN ACCOMMODATION

How do I know when to request an accommodation?

You can request an accommodation at any time during the application process or while you are employed. You can request an accommodation even if you did not ask for one when applying for a job or after receiving a job offer. In general, you should request an accommodation when you know that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing you, due to a disability, from competing for a job, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment like an employee lunch room or employee parking. As a practical matter, it is better to request an accommodation before your job performance suffers or conduct problems occur because employers do not have to rescind discipline that occurred before they knew about your disability.

From Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship (EEOC Guidance) at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html.

How do I request an accommodation?

According to the EEOC, you only have to let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. You can use "plain English" to make your request and you do not have to mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation."

Here are some examples:

Example A: An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example B: An employee tells his supervisor, "I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.

Example D: An employee tells his supervisor that he would like a new chair because his present one is uncomfortable. Although this is a request for a change at work, his statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that he is requesting reasonable accommodation. He does not link his need for the new chair with a medical condition.

Requests for reasonable accommodation do not have to be in writing so you can request accommodations in a face-to-face conversation or using any other method of communication. Your employer may choose to write a memo or letter confirming your request or may ask you to fill out a form or submit the request in written form, but the employer cannot ignore your initial request. However, you may want to put your request in writing even if your employer does not require it. Sometimes it is useful to have a paper trail in case there is a dispute about whether or when you requested accommodation.

From Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship (EEOC Guidance) at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html.

For more information regarding how to make a written accommodation request, visit Accommodation Request Letter at http://askjan.org/media/accommrequestltr.html.

Do I have to tell my employer that I have a disability?

Under the ADA, employers are only required to provide accommodations for employees who are experiencing workplace problems because of a disability. Therefore, unless you let your employer know that you have a disability, the employer is not obligated to consider accommodations under the ADA.

How much medical information do I have to provide to my employer?

Some employees do not want to give their employers a lot of details about their disability. If you prefer not to give a lot of information, you may want to limit the medical information you initially give to your employer when you request an accommodation. For example, you may want to tell your employer what you are having trouble doing, that the problem is related to a disability, and what your accommodation ideas are. Some employers will not ask for more information. However, employers have the right to request additional medical information when an employee requests an accommodation and if you do not provide it, the employer can deny your accommodation request. When an employee requests an accommodation and the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious, an employer may require that the employee provide medical documentation to establish that the employee has an ADA disability and needs the requested accommodation. For more information, visit Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request at http://askjan.org/media/medical.htm.

What accommodations can I request?

In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide "reasonable" accommodations for employees with disabilities. Therefore, you can request any accommodation that is considered "reasonable." Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations from the EEOC:

  • making existing facilities accessible
  • job restructuring
  • part-time or modified work schedules
  • acquiring or modifying equipment
  • changing tests, training materials, or policies
  • providing qualified readers or interpreters
  • reassignment to a vacant position
  • medical leave
  • work from home

The following are not considered forms of reasonable accommodation and therefore not required under the ADA:

  • removing or eliminating an essential function from a job
  • lowering production standards
  • providing personal use items such as a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or similar devices if they are also needed off the job

Note: While employers are not required to eliminate an essential function, lower a production standard, or provide personal use items, they can do so if they wish.

The only limitation on an employer's obligation to provide reasonable accommodations is that no such change or modification is required if it would cause "undue hardship" to the employer. "Undue hardship" means significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. Undue hardship refers not only to financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. An employer must assess on a case-by-case basis whether a particular reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship.

From Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship (EEOC Guidance) at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html.

How long does my employer have to respond to my accommodation request?

According to the EEOC, there is no specific amount of time that employers have to respond to an accommodation request, but they should respond as quickly as possible. Unnecessary delays in responding or implementing an accommodation can result in a violation of the ADA. The EEOC provides the following examples:

Example A: An employer provides parking for all employees. An employee who uses a wheelchair requests from his supervisor an accessible parking space, explaining that the spaces are so narrow that there is insufficient room for his van to extend the ramp that allows him to get in and out. The supervisor does not act on the request and does not forward it to someone with authority to respond. The employee makes a second request to the supervisor. Yet, two months after the initial request, nothing has been done. Although the supervisor never definitively denies the request, the lack of action under these circumstances amounts to a denial, and thus violates the ADA.

Example B: An employee who is blind requests adaptive equipment for her computer as a reasonable accommodation. The employer must order this equipment and is informed that it will take three months to receive delivery. No other company sells the adaptive equipment the employee needs. The employer notifies the employee of the results of its investigation and that it has ordered the equipment. Although it will take three months to receive the equipment, the employer has moved as quickly as it can to obtain it and thus there is no ADA violation resulting from the delay. The employer and employee should determine what can be done so that the employee can perform his/her job as effectively as possible while waiting for the equipment.

From Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship (EEOC Guidance) at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html, see question 10.

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