From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant/Legislative Specialist
Most people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations so employees with disabilities can perform the essential functions of their jobs. However, people are not always so clear about other reasons employers might have to provide accommodations. One of the questions we get at JAN over and over is whether an employer must provide an accommodation for an employee who is adequately performing his job. The answer is a resounding yes! There are many situations in which an employer must consider accommodations even though an employee is able to perform all job duties. The following are some examples:
1. Accessing Benefits and Privileges of Employment
Employees with disabilities should have equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment that are enjoyed by similarly-situated employees. In some cases, accommodations are necessary for an employee to access a benefit of employment.
Example: An employee who is deaf is given an interpreter in order to participate in a professional development course.
Example: An employee with a heart condition cannot walk very far so is given a reserved parking space in the employee parking lot, close to his workspace.
Example: An employee who has quadriplegia plans to attend an off-site, employer-sponsored office party so the employer makes sure the party is held in an accessible location.
2. Dealing with Medical Needs
Employees might need accommodations to maintain their health even though they can currently perform all essential functions. The logic here is that if they do not maintain their health they will not be able to continue performing their jobs. Or, another way to look at it is that employees with disabilities should have the same opportunity as other employees to work without negatively impacting their health.
Example: An employee with a mental health impairment must avoid undue stress so is allowed to take a short break when she starts to feel overwhelmed.
Example: An employee with diabetes must eat several small snacks throughout the workday so is allowed to eat at his desk even though company policy forbids it.
Example: An employee with epilepsy is allowed to bring a service animal to work to help warn him that a seizure is about to occur even though the company has a no-animals policy.
Example: An employee with a sleep disorder is excused from rotating shifts so she can maintain a regular sleep pattern.
Example: An employee with infertility is allowed to take leave for medical treatment.
3. Commuting To and From Work
While employers do not have to actually transport an employee with a disability to and from work (unless the employer provides employee transportation to and from work as a benefit of employment), employers may have to provide other accommodations when an employee’s disability makes it difficult or impossible to commute to and from work, such as a schedule modification or telework. The underlying reason why employers may have to provide such accommodations is that the employer typically controls employee schedules and work locations so when a schedule or work location poses a barrier to an employee with a disability, the employer must consider reasonable accommodations to overcome the barrier.
Example: An employee with lupus and fatigue has difficulty maintaining stamina at work because of a long commute so is allowed to telework several days a week.
Example: An employee who is blind uses public transportation that is only available at certain hours of the day so his employer changes the employee’s schedule so he can access the public transportation.
Example: An employee with a gastrointestinal disorder has difficulty driving to work because there is no place to stop and use the restroom. He is allowed to transfer to an office closer to his home that is along a route with public restrooms.
4. Struggling to Perform Job Functions
An employee might be performing his job adequately, but struggling to do so because of a disability. The employer has a duty to consider accommodations so the employee can perform his job without struggling.
Example: An employee with a learning disability must work extra hours to get his work done because he has difficulty reading. His employer provides screen reading software to make it easier for the employee to access information.
Example: An employee with cumulative trauma has difficulty typing. She is meeting the minimum productivity standards, but wants to work at a higher standard in the hopes of receiving a promotion. Her employer provides speech recognition software for data input to increase her typing speed and an ergonomic workstation, which enables her to work faster.
5. Temporary Barriers in the Workplace
In some cases, issues arise in the workplace that create temporary barriers for employees with disabilities. In such cases, employers should consider providing temporary accommodations until the issues are resolved.
Example: An employee with chemical sensitivity is allowed to work from another location while the office is being painted and new carpets are off-gassing.
Example: An employee who uses a wheelchair and works on the third floor of the worksite is given paid leave time until the office elevator is repaired.
Example: An employee with multiple sclerosis and temperature sensitivity is given a portable air-conditioner and a cooling vest to use until the central air-conditioning is repaired.
The employees in all these examples are performing their jobs, but their employers must still consider accommodations under the ADA. In addition to being legally required accommodations, these types of accommodations promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of employment.