From the desk of Lisa Mathess, M.A., SHRM-CP, Lead Consultant - Motor Team
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship, an employer has an obligation to engage in an informal process when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. Companies are encouraged to develop an interactive process and train staff how to recognize an accommodation request. The goal is for the employee and employer to work together to determine an effective accommodation without causing the employer hardship.
A common misconception is that once an effective accommodation is implemented, the decision is final. However, the interactive process is meant to be ongoing. Accommodations are not guaranteed to last forever and there are times when a change may be needed by the employee or employer.
Accommodations are individualized and may be continuous or temporary. Even a long-term reasonable accommodation may not be permanent. There are various reasons an accommodation might need to be changed or removed; for example, an accommodation no longer meets the disability-related needs of the employee or begins to pose a hardship, or there are alternative accommodations that would be equally effective and better meet the employer’s business needs. When employers want to change or remove an accommodation, they should engage in an interactive process with the employee to explore alternative ideas.
In some cases, an employee may indicate that they no longer need an accommodation. This may cause the employer to question the ability to remove an accommodation and what appropriate action might be taken. Below are some practical tips for the employee and employer regarding the need for a change in or removal of a reasonable accommodation.
For an employee,
- When a change is needed be sure to communicate with your employer. Follow up with human resources or the person you initially worked with when making your request.
- It may help to explain why the current accommodation is no longer effective or no longer needed. If an alternative accommodation is needed you might consider providing potential ideas.
- If the change is related to a restriction from your medical provider, you might obtain updated documentation from your provider in case it is needed.
- If the employer is initiating a change in accommodation, give them your ideas for alternatives. If the employer suggests an ineffective accommodation, document and explain why it’s ineffective for your needs. (See: How to Inform an Employer That an Accommodation is Not Effective and a Sample Letter)
For an employer,
- If an employee indicates that a change is needed, you likely want to engage and explore alternative options that might be effective without causing you hardship.
- Remember that if an accommodation starts to pose a hardship, you also can initiate the conversation about a needed change.
- If exploring alternative accommodations, make sure they meet the needs of the employee with a disability. Although not required, consider the employee’s preferred accommodation.
- If an accommodation is no longer needed, determine the most appropriate way to document. There is a difference between a restriction and recommendation from the medical provider. If the accommodation was simply recommended by the provider and not required based on a medical restriction, updated medical information may not be needed. You might simply document and have the employee sign off that the accommodation is no longer needed. You might make sure the employee knows who to talk with if anything else changes in the future. If the accommodation was provided based on a medical restriction, then it may be appropriate to ask for updated documentation before removing the accommodation to make sure it’s safe to do so.
Example A: An employee requested a modified schedule to assist with attending a weekly therapy appointment. The employer approved the accommodation, allowing the employee to flex their Friday schedule. The employee later learned that the therapist was altering hours of operation and approached the employer. The employee asked if they could start flexing their schedule on Wednesdays instead of Fridays. The employer found no hardship in switching the days.
Example B: An employer purchased screen reading software for an employee as a reasonable accommodation. A year later the employer was in the process of updating the company database. They were unsure if the screen reading software would be compatible with the new system. To avoid a potential lapse in accommodation, the employer approached the employee to discuss the concerns and explore alternative screen reading options if a change was needed.
Example C: A warehouse worker was released to return to work with temporary lifting restrictions following rotator cuff surgery. Medical documentation indicated that the employee could not perform these functions for approximately 3 months. The employer explored accommodation options including job restructuring, reassignment, and leave. It was determined that based on current business need they could restructure and temporarily provide other duties to the employee. Approaching the end of the 3-month time period, the employer followed up with the employee asking for an updated note confirming that they would be able to resume full duties on the previously discussed date.
Example D: An employee was recently diagnosed with a sleep disorder and prescribed medication to assist. Based on the adjustment period and potential side effects the employee decided to disclose and talk to the employer about accommodations. Medical documentation suggested that allowing the employee to work a modified schedule or work remotely may be helpful during this time. The employer found no hardship in allowing the employee to work remotely and discussed a tentative plan for the work from home hours. A month later the employee called the employer and indicated that they felt they no longer needed to work from home and would like to return to the office. The employer asked the employee to email them to document that they no longer needed to work remotely. The employer also indicated for the employee to let them know if they have any difficulty or need anything else in the future.
Example E: An employee with COPD had been mandated to work from home since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The restrictions were lifted and the worksite resumed normal operations so the employer called all employees back into the office. Updated medical documentation indicated the employee was at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 and suggested telework to prevent exposure as a reasonable accommodation. The employer considered the request but opted to provide workplace accommodations such as PPE, social distancing measures between workstations, and increased sanitation and cleaning throughout the building to enable the employee to work on site rather than telework.