Accommodation and Compliance Series:
Job Accommodation Process
JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series is designed to help employers determine effective accommodations and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each publication in the series addresses a specific medical condition and provides information about the condition, ADA information, accommodation ideas, and resources for additional information.
The Accommodation and Compliance Series is a starting point in the accommodation process and may not address every situation. Accommodations should be made on a case by case basis, considering each employee’s individual limitations and accommodation needs. Employers are encouraged to contact JAN to discuss specific situations in more detail.
For information on assistive technology and other accommodation ideas, visit JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://askjan.org/soar.
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN), established in 1983, has a long history of providing information regarding work-site accommodation ideas. JAN embraces a mission to provide employers, individuals with disabilities, rehabilitation specialists, and others with practical information regarding the tools and techniques necessary to successfully work through the job accommodation process. Using an accommodation process, employers can bridge the distance between the maximum ability of an individual and the essential functions of a job.
JAN’s Job Accommodation Process, involves managing five steps for successful work-site accommodation outcomes. The process requires specific attention to the uniqueness of each individual's accommodation needs. Basically defined, an accommodation is an adjustment to a job, the work environment or the way things are usually done. The goal of a job accommodation is to reduce or eliminate workplace barriers to enable a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
The accommodation process, used by Human Factors Consultants at JAN, can be a helpful tool in determining successful job accommodation outcomes. The need to research and implement accommodations may arise at any stage of employment such as application, retention, or return to work. The following document provides an overview of JAN's Job Accommodation Process. The accommodation process is explained through five steps, all including questions to consider and examples of work-site accommodation situations and solutions. The five steps include 1) define the situation; 2) perform needs assessment; 3) explore alternative placement options; 4) redefine the situation; and 5) monitor accommodations.
It is important to note that it is not appropriate to assume that because an individual has a disability or limitation(s) that he or she will require accommodations in the workplace. An individual may have a disability that does not necessarily limit their ability to perform job functions. Individuals with disabilities may need no accommodations, a few, or many. Each accommodation process should be handled on a case-by-case basis to ensure the needs of the specific individual are met.
The accommodation process can involve a variety of professionals who are familiar with functional limitations, job analysis, technology and accommodation tools and techniques. Employers may benefit from contacting outside resources like consultants at JAN, rehabilitation counselors, information and assistive technology specialists, rehabilitation engineers and others. Most importantly, the individual with the specific functional limitations or disability should be included in the accommodation process. The individual is often the best resource to consult regarding their accommodation needs.
Download the Job Accommodation Process Flow Chart.
Defining the situation is a critical step in determining a successful accommodation outcome. Most often, the accommodation process will begin when an employee notifies an employer, verbally or in writing, that a change is needed due to a disability or medical condition. Other times, an employer may recognize the potential need for accommodation when an employee is experiencing difficulty performing job functions or barriers are apparent in the application and interview process. Once the need for an accommodation process is recognized and an interactive dialogue has begun, the parties might address the following questions to guide them in defining the situation. If the situation has already been clearly defined, move forward to Step 2: Perform Needs Assessment.
Questions to Consider in Defining the Situation
- What specific symptoms and functional limitations are creating barriers to accessing the workplace, performing job tasks or benefiting from an equal employment opportunity?
- A functional limitation can be defined as the inability to perform an action or a set of actions, either physical or mental, because of a physical or emotional restriction or limitation1. The symptoms and limitations of the specific individual should be addressed rather than considering the symptoms and limitations of a class of individuals. No two people will have the same exact limitations. For example, simply knowing that a person has diabetes may not provide enough information to clearly define the situation for the individual. The employer may need to understand why it is important for the employee to take breaks to check her blood sugar level, take insulin or eat a snack to avoid a hypoglycemic reaction. The employer may need clarification regarding why working a steady shift is relevant to the individual's ability to maintain a regimen of medication, proper eating, exercise and normal sleep cycles to keep the diabetes under control.
- Is the individual's condition progressive, stable or unpredictable?
- This question may not always be relevant. However, in some circumstances, knowing how the individual's condition will change will be important during the accommodation process. When an individual's symptoms or limitations are progressing quickly, the accommodation approach may be to address current accommodations as well as those that would be effective in the near future. For example, if an employee has a progressive or intermittent hearing loss and is having difficulty communicating on the telephone, it may be important to consider both a telephone amplifier with frequency control and a text telephone (TTY) as an accommodation. An amplifier may be effective for a short time or occasionally whereas a TTY may be effective during those times when the individual is not able to understand functional speech over the telephone.
In situations where a condition or limitations are generally stable, an employer may provide an accommodation that is on-going that will not change with time. For example, an individual who uses a prosthetic limb who has requested an accessible parking space may not require any additional accommodations in the workplace and accessible parking needs may not change. However, it is important to note that while an individual's condition or limitations may remain stable, accommodation needs may change due to a modification to job title or job duties.
Many medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Meniere's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV, and asthma can involve unpredictable symptoms and limitations. For example, an individual who has asthma or MS may not know daily how symptoms will affect ability to physically get to work in the morning. It may be beneficial to be prepared with an accommodation plan that allows for flexibility and alternative work arrangements. Providing a work at home option may enable an employee to have a productive workday even if not during the traditional work hours. Planning for unpredictability can be a way of enabling productive job performance through an effective accommodation solution.
- Is documentation needed to support the accommodation?
- When defining the situation, documentation may be useful but not always required to support the need for accommodation. Documentation should provide an employer with information regarding how an individual's specific functional limitations affect job performance. In general, an employer will not benefit from obtaining an individual's entire medical history. The employer should focus on information pertaining to the individual's current need for accommodation. With consent, an employer may seek information that pertains directly to the individual's current impairment(s), ask for comment regarding the individual's ability to perform functions outlined in an updated job description and/or ask the professional to complete a checklist that addresses the physical and emotional demands of the employee's position.
Documentation may be obtained from a professional who is familiar with the individual's specific limitations. Professionals include but are not limited to the individual's family practitioner or medical specialist, a rehabilitation counselor, a physical therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist. The professional should be able to address how the individual's functional limitations are affecting job performance. The professional may not necessarily be familiar with accommodation practices and as a result may not speak specifically in terms of accommodation needs.For further information on making medical inquiries, go to JAN’s publication: Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request http://askjan.org/media/medical.htm
- What specific job tasks, work environments, equipment or policies are creating barriers to successful job performance?
- Once specific limitations and the need for accommodation have become obvious, next the employer can address the effects of the limitations on job performance. This may be a good time to study the individual’s job description to determine the essential and marginal functions of the position. It may be necessary to restructure the job in some way to eliminate marginal job tasks that are hindering successful job performance. If the functional limitations are obvious but the problematic job tasks are not, the employer may want to seek the services of a professional skilled in job analyses, ergonomics or industrial hygiene to assess the workplace barriers.
Job performance may be affected by difficulty performing one or any number of tasks. The employer should address each task individually. An individual may have difficulty performing manual tasks such as sorting small parts into bins due to cerebral palsy, lifting sixty pound boxes from the floor to a height of five feet due to the effects of bone cancer, or communicating with ten people in a meeting due to stuttering. Maybe an individual is not meeting attendance standards due to the side effects of medication taken for a seizure disorder, is having difficulty breathing around coworkers who wear fragrances due to a chemical sensitivity, or is unable to read the information on a computer screen due to a learning disability.
The equipment used to perform job functions may present barriers for an individual with a disability. During the job accommodation process, an employer will want to ensure an employee is able to effectively use the equipment needed to perform essential job functions. For example, a shipping and receiving clerk with a learning disability is having difficulty reading a computer monitor. An employer could consider providing an accommodation such as word highlighting software or screen reading software that would enable the employee to use the computer equipment. Or a respiratory therapist with a latex allergy needs an accommodation to avoid contact with powdered latex gloves. An employer might provide a non-powdered, latex-free alternative glove as an accommodation.
In some cases, the environment or a policy may be the barrier rather than a specific job task. Changes could be made to the environment or a policy might be modified as a way to promote successful job performance. For example, a policy banning animals from the workplace may be a barrier for an employee who requires the assistance of a service animal. The employer may want to identify which tasks the service animal performs for the employee to determine if modifying the policy would be a way to effectively accommodate the individual and enable performance of problematic job tasks.
Once step 1 is completed and the situation has been defined, move forward to the next step in the accommodation process Step 2: Perform Needs Assessment.
Step 2 involves an assessment of what action needs to be taken in the employee's current position. The following series of questions will be helpful when assessing the employee's accommodation needs. It may be necessary to provide a solution that addresses more than one question. For example, an employee could require a schedule change as well as assistive technology to perform job functions.
Questions to Consider When Performing A Needs Assessment
Is it necessary to modify the job?
Situations may arise in the workplace where a job modification could be needed as an accommodation. A job modification may include: restructuring the job by eliminating marginal job functions; changing a shift or hours worked; providing a flexible schedule; sharing job duties; and working from home.
Situations and Solutions: Modify the Job
- A data entry clerk who has agoraphobia had difficulty traveling during peak hours of traffic.
- The employee’s working hours were changed to allow her to travel to and from work during the off hours of the day. She was able to arrive at work at 10:00 a.m. and leave at 6:00 p.m.
- A public relations specialist who has MS was finding it increasingly difficult to get to work in the morning due to the fatigue associated with preparing for her day and driving to work.
- The employee was provided with a flexible work arrangement that allowed her to work from home on an occasional basis.
- A residential living specialist who has diabetes was unable to work a rotating shift due to difficulty regulating his insulin and sleep cycles. He was also having difficulty scheduling visits to his physician.
- The employee was provided with a steady shift and two consecutive days off each week so the employee could make arrangements to see his physician regularly.
If the job was modified as the accommodation solution, continue on to Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations. If it is not possible to modify the job or additional accommodations are needed, continue with the next question in Step 2.
Is it necessary to modify a policy?
It may be necessary to change or implement a policy to accommodate an employee with a disability. Policies might pertain to attendance requirements, food and beverages at workstations, wearing or using fragrances, or animals in the workplace.
Situations and Solutions: Modify a Policy
- An employee with insulin-dependent diabetes needs to eat regularly to control the diabetes. The employee handbook prohibits eating and drinking at the workstation.
- The workplace policy regarding food and drink was modified to allow the employee with diabetes to have the necessary food/drink items at their workstation.
- An employee with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has already missed one week of work due to fatigue and is receiving medical treatment for other symptoms of MS. The employer has a “no fault” attendance policy to terminate after two weeks of absences.
- The “no fault” attendance policy was modified as an accommodation to allow the employee with MS to take more than two weeks of leave if necessary.
- A team leader in a marketing firm is hypersensitive to fragrances. The employee experiences severe headaches, difficulty breathing and is unable to perform job duties when exposed to fragrances.
- The dress or hygiene policy was modified to include a statement that requests employees to refrain from wearing or using fragrances in the workplace. Implementation of such a policy should be followed with information to employees about the effects of fragrances on individuals who are hypersensitive to chemicals and fragranced products.
- A customer service representative who is blind typically uses his service animal, Scooter, to assist him with mobility. The employee lives close to work and would like to use and bring his service animal to work.
- Recognizing that this is a way for the employee to get to and from work independently, the employer modified the workplace policy prohibiting animals in the workplace. A space is provided to keep Scooter during the day and the employee is permitted to use breaks throughout the workday to care for his service animal.
If modifying a policy is the solution, formalize the policy changes, notify employees and create an enforcement procedure. Continue on to Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations.
If it is not possible to modify a policy or additional accommodations are needed, continue with the next question in Step 2.
Is it necessary to modify the facility?
Modification to the existing facility can include installing ramps at the entrance, modifying restrooms, or providing an accessible parking space for an employee with a mobility impairment. Other modifications may include removing physical obstacles that might be potential hazards for someone with a vision impairment or installing an emergency alerting system that has both a visual and an audible alert for employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Situations and Solutions: Modify the Facility
- A graphic artist for a small employer is deaf and needs to be alerted to the employer’s audible emergency alarm system.
- The employer retrofitted the existing audible alarm system to include strobe lights.
- A professor at a community college who uses a wheelchair was having difficulty accessing the entrance to the main biology lecture hall.
- A ramp was built to the entrance and a side light window was installed in the entry so he was able to see when another person was opening the door from either side
If modifying the facility is the solution, consult applicable accessibility guidelines, arrange for contracts and purchase, install or remodel the facility as necessary. Continue on to Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations.
If it is not possible to modify the facility or additional accommodations are needed, continue with the next question in Step 2.
Is it necessary to use a product or piece of equipment?
Many products exist that could be used as an accommodation for an employee with a disability. Common terms used to refer to such products are assistive technology, ergonomic and independent living aids. Some products may be specifically designed for people with disabilities while others are not but may serve as an effective accommodation.
It is important to note that if a product is purchased as an accommodation, the employer should consider compatibility issues, computer requirements, training, maintenance and the availability of technical support for the product.
Situations and Solutions: Use a Product or Piece of Equipment
- An administrative secretary who is legally blind was not benefiting from increasing the font on her computer to view and edit documents and maintain time and attendance records.
- The employer purchased screen magnification software. The software enhanced or enlarged all applications on the computer and allowed the employee to choose the amount of magnification and change color contrasts to fit her individual needs.
- A clerical assistant had limitations in repetitive motion due to a cumulative trauma disorder. This restricted her ability to type for long periods.
- The employer provided speech recognition software to help alleviate the amount of typing necessary to perform her job functions.
- A senior account executive with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) was habitually late for work and meetings. In addition, he was presenting himself at work with an untidy appearance because he was always “running late”.
- The employer provided him with a Timex Data Link® watch that alerted him when it was time to get dressed, find keys/wallet, and to leave for work on time. The watch also tracks meeting times, places and agendas using information downloaded to the watch from his computer organizer software.
If using a product or piece of equipment is the solution, consult with appropriate resources such as the Job Accommodation Network or other rehabilitation professionals, conduct a work-site or technology assessment, purchase the product(s), and provide training if applicable. Continue on to Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations.
If it is not possible to use a product or piece of equipment or if additional accommodations are needed, continue with the next question in Step 2.
Is it necessary to modify or design a product?
Often times an employer can modify an existing product in-house but if this is not possible, it may be necessary to contact a rehabilitation engineer, electrician, IT professional or the manufacturer of the product. These professionals may also assist if new products need to be designed.
Situations and Solutions: Modify or Design a Product
- A cookie maker with a learning disability, dyscalcula, was having difficulty counting out one dozen cookies per baking sheet.
- The employer designed a template with 12 holes cut out. Once all the holes were filled, the baking sheet was ready for the oven.
If modifying of designing a product is the solution, contact the appropriate professionals and modify or design the product. Continue on to Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations.
If it is not possible to modify or design a product or if additional accommodations are needed, continue with the next question in Step 2.
Is it necessary to obtain a service?
In some accommodation situations, a product or modification to the job may not be the effective solution but rather, it may be necessary to obtain a service. There may be many different service options to consider. Services may include providing a qualified interpreter, real time stenocaptioner or qualified reader, contracting for Braille transcription services or video captioning services for training tapes, or requesting an ergonomic, industrial hygiene or work-site evaluation.
Situations and Solutions: Obtain a Service
- An employee who is Deaf, does not know sign language fluently but must communicate with staff during monthly meetings.
- The employer hired a stenocaptioner to perform Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) during the meeting.
- A teacher who is blind wanted access to the printed employee and student handbook.
- The employer sent the handbook to a Braille transcriptionist and the teacher now had a copy to read independently at any time.
If providing a service is the solution, contract for the service and continue on with Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations.
If it is not possible to obtain a service or to follow through with any of the suggestions in Step 2, continue on with Step 3: Explore Alternative Placement Options.
The road to a successful accommodation outcome can be a bumpy one. During Step 2, various roadblocks may lead an employer to the conclusion that accommodation in the original position may not be possible. While it is traditional to accommodate an employee in their original position, an employer should consider Step 3 and address whether an alternative placement option could be the effective accommodation solution.
Questions to Consider When Exploring Alternative Placement Options
- Is reassignment a possibility?
- Consider reassignment to a vacant position as a reasonable accommodation for a qualified employee with a disability. Reassignment is generally the accommodation of last resort when an accommodation is not feasible in an employee's original position. Reassignment can also be considered when transferring an employee to an alternate position serves as a more effective or reasonable option than providing an accommodation in the original position.
Employers who have obligations under Title I of the ADA or various sections of the Rehabilitation Act can use guidelines provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) when exploring reassignment as an accommodation. EEOC's guidelines regarding reassignment are provided according to the agency's interpretation of reasonable accommodation under the ADA. For more information, see EEOC's Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA at: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html
Employers who do not have obligations under the above mentioned legislation may want to contact their state Fair Employment Practice Agency for information regarding state civil rights legislation.
- Is the employee qualified for reassignment?
- Reassignment is only required of qualified employees who, because of a disability, can no longer perform the essential functions of a current position, with or without reasonable accommodation. Reassignment is only available to a qualified employee with a disability. The employee must possess the skills and qualifications required for the vacant position. The employer is not required to provide training beyond what would normally be provided to any other person who would be placed in the position.
- Are there any vacant, equivalent positions?
- According to the EEOC, if reassignment is the effective accommodation, an employee is not required to compete for the position. Reassignment should first be considered to a vacant position at an equivalent level, with similar pay and benefits and second to a lower graded position, with less pay and benefits. If an employee is demoted as an accommodation, the employer is not required to maintain the employee's higher rate salary unless the employer customarily does so for other employees. An employer is not required to promote an employee with a disability as an accommodation.
An employer is not required to create a new position or bump an existing employee from a position as a way to accommodate an employee with a disability. An employer can certainly go beyond the reassignment guidelines under the ADA and create a position if they desire to. For example, an employer may recognize a need to have several lighter duty tasks performed and could opt to create a light duty position for a maintenance employee who has a back condition.
- If reassigned, will the employee have an equal opportunity to interact with coworkers and benefit from advancement in the new position as any other employee would?
Reassignment may not be used as a way to limit, segregate or discriminate against an individual with a disability. For example, an employee who works in a sales position is receiving treatment for cancer and has lost her hair. The employer is concerned about customers' perceptions of the sales person. The employee has requested reassignment to a sales position that accommodates a flexible schedule for treatment. Two positions are vacant. The employee is better qualified for position A, which requires direct customer contact. The employer places the employee in position B because direct customer contact is not involved as sales are handled by telephone. The employer has chosen to limit the employee's employment options and to 'hide' her from customers due to his fears of customer perceptions.
If reassignment is the effective accommodation solution, identify an appropriate position and transfer the employee. Consider any reasonable accommodation needs the employee may have in the new position. If no accommodations will be needed, continue on to Step 5: Monitoring Accommodations.
If it is not possible to reassign the employee as an effective accommodation, continue on with Step 4: Redefine the Situation.
The Job Accommodation Process may not always end with a successful accommodation outcome. If Step 4 has been reached, it may be beneficial to redefine the accommodation situation. An accommodation option may have been overlooked somewhere in the process. Additional resources may produce further insight regarding potential accommodation options. An accommodation team might be assembled.
An accommodation team can consist of any number of individuals who understand functional limitations, job functions and accommodation concepts. All parties involved in the accommodation process should also have an understanding of the confidentiality issues surrounding the accommodation process. The team might include human resource specialists, client assistance program counselors, disability program managers and ADA specialists. Individuals from the medical community can be helpful such as doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists or psychologists and occupational health nurses. Additionally, the team will benefit from the assistance of rehabilitation counselors, rehabilitation engineers, information technology specialists and members of organizations that serve individuals with disabilities.
Hopefully a successful accommodation outcome will result from redefining the situation. There are certainly situations when an accommodation may not be identified for the specific individual. An employer will want to be sure that accommodation ideas have been exhausted and that a good faith effort has resulted. If an accommodation cannot be identified and the employee is no longer able to perform essential job functions, the employee may no longer be qualified to retain the position.
Step 5 is probably the most often neglected step in the accommodation process. Once an accommodation has been identified and provided, it is important to monitor the accommodation to ensure its effectiveness. It is necessary to check-in with the employee with a disability to ascertain whether the accommodation(s) provided is effective and whether any change has occurred that would alter current accommodation needs.
Questions to Consider
- Who will be responsible for monitoring accommodations?
- A supervisor, manager, human resource professional, ADA coordinator etc. may be responsible for monitoring accommodations.
- Is the employee informed about the process for communicating any problems that arise with the current accommodation?
- A reasonable accommodation policy might include a statement related to monitoring accommodations and who to contact if problems arise.
- Has any change occurred with the employee's condition, limitations, work environment or job duties that would affect current accommodations?
- Change happens. The employee may no longer need the specific accommodation or may need additional accommodations to perform essential job functions. The work environment may have changed in some way due to remodeling or the weather. New duties may have been added to the position the employee has been reassigned to or been maintained in.
- If the job was modified, is the employee able to perform the essential functions effectively?
- For example, maybe an employee's schedule has been modified to accommodate later arrival and departure. Is the schedule change meeting the needs of both the employee and the employer?
- If a policy was modified, is the policy being enforced to ensure the accommodation is effective?
- If a policy has been modified but it is not being enforced, an effective accommodation has more than likely not been provided. Make certain that employees have been notified of the policy change and how the policy is enforced. Management staff must follow through with the enforcement procedures.
- If a product was purchased, consider the following:
- Was proper training provided to the person who is using the product?
- Is the product being used appropriately?
- Is the product being maintained properly?
- Are other accommodations needed to support the use of the product?
- If a service was provided, is the service effective?
- Why pay for the cost of the service if the service is not enabling the employee to perform essential job functions or benefit from an equal employment opportunity? An employer can certainly shop around. If the service is not meeting the needs of the individual, consider other available service providers.
- If the employee was reassigned, are there any accommodation needs in the new position?
- It may be necessary to accommodate an individual in the position they have been reassigned to. Consider reasonable accommodations that may be necessary to perform essential job functions in the new position.
- Is support being offered to the individual with the disability to sustain the accommodations that were implemented?
- Ideally, the employer and employee should work together to ensure that accommodations are enabling the employee to benefit from an equal employment opportunity. Remember that the goal of an accommodation should be to bridge the distance between the maximum ability of the individual and the essential functions of a job. By playing a supportive role, employers are more likely to benefit from the hard work exhibited by loyal employees both with and without disabilities alike.
1. Brodwin, M., Tellez, F., Brodwin, S. (1993). Medical, Psychosocial and Vocational Aspects of Disability. Athens, GA: Elliott and Fitzpatrick, Inc.