From the desks of Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Principal Consultant — ADA Specialist and Anna Saab (she/her), B.S., Employment Specialist
You’ve requested an accommodation at work, but your employer has denied the request. What do you do now? Do you have options under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? If you work for an ADA-covered entity, you do. JAN offers some strategies for you to consider.
Learn More About Why the Accommodation Was Denied
When an employer denies a request for an accommodation, it can be frustrating and it might seem like there’s nothing you can do about it. Just like any other situation when someone says no, you might be curious about why your request was denied. While there’s no requirement under Title I of the ADA for covered employers to provide a written explanation for why a request for accommodation was denied, nothing prohibits an employee from asking for a reason. Individuals working for federal executive branch agencies can expect to receive a written denial in accordance with Executive Order 13164. Learning more about why the employer denied your accommodation request will help you determine whether there’s any recourse for receiving a reasonable accommodation. One strategy for doing this is to follow up with the employer by email to request a reason for the denial. It can be useful to formalize your effort to request further information and to receive a documented response.
There are various reasons why an employer may choose to deny an accommodation request made under the ADA. It is possible that by asking about your employer’s reasons, you might be empowered to change the outcome of the situation. For example, maybe the employer needs more information about your disability and how your limitations or restrictions affect your ability to perform the essential duties of the job. Or perhaps the accommodation you requested isn’t reasonable or will cause an undue hardship for the employer. If the employer can’t provide the requested accommodation for these reasons, there’s still a responsibility to work with you through the interactive process under the ADA to explore whether there is an alternative accommodation that is reasonable and effective. JAN can support this process by helping you and your employer explore accommodation solutions.
Consider Appealing the Accommodation Denial
If your employer denied the accommodation you requested but you believe the accommodation is reasonable or the reason given by your employer is not valid, it might be possible to appeal the accommodation decision. Some employers have an accommodation appeal process. This process might include completing a form to be submitted to and reviewed by human resources or an accommodation appeals committee, for example. Check your employee handbook or contact someone in human resources to see if the employer has a policy in relation to this type of process.
If the employer doesn’t have a formal appeal process, you might try going up the chain of command to ask for a formal appeal of the decision (e.g., send an email to a manager and/or human resources requesting reconsideration of the decision). Some employees might be able to receive support during the appeal process from a union representative, if applicable. State and local government employees might contact their ADA coordinator for assistance. Federal employees might contact the EEO Counselor at their agency to learn about an internal agency appeal process.
Engage Advocacy or Legal Services for Support
Ideally, asking for information about why an accommodation was denied and/or appealing an accommodation denial should lead to further engagement in the interactive process under the ADA, and a fair outcome. But sometimes it doesn’t. If this is true, you might benefit from advocacy or legal support to resolve the situation. Consider reaching out to your state protection and advocacy agency for this assistance. State protection and advocacy agencies have the authority to provide legal representation and other advocacy services to individuals with disabilities under all federal and state laws. JAN offers a state protection and advocacy directory where you can search for contact information for the agency in your state.
Summarizing some strategies to consider when an accommodation request was denied:
- Ask the employer to provide an explanation for why the request was denied
- Offer and/or request to explore alternative accommodation solutions if the original request is not reasonable or will pose an undue hardship for the employer
- Provide additional disability-related and/or accommodation information if it was indicated that more information is needed to approve the original request — ask what specific information is needed
- Contact JAN for assistance exploring alternative accommodation solutions
- Engage in a formal or informal appeal process or determine whether other strategies are available within your place of employment to resolve the situation internally (e.g., involve the chain of command, seek union support, etc.)
- Reach-out to protection and advocacy agencies for advocacy and/or legal assistance, if desired.
When All Else Fails, Explore Complaint Options
If you’re not satisfied with the employer's response to your request for accommodation and no resolution has been achieved working with the employer directly through an appeal process, or there is a retaliation or discrimination issue, the final option for resolving the matter is to file a formal complaint under the ADA. Individuals working for covered entities under Title I of the ADA may file a formal complaint with the federal agency that enforces the ADA – the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A charge can be filed electronically through the EEOC Public Portal after an online inquiry is submitted to the agency or you can contact your nearest EEOC office or EEOC headquarters directly.
For detailed information about the ADA complaint process, see the following resources:
- Filing A Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC
- How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination
- What You Can Expect After You File a Charge
Employees of the federal government must follow a different complaint process under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. To learn about the procedures for filing a complaint of disability discrimination against a federal government agency employer, see the EEOC resource Overview of Federal Sector EEO Complaint Process.
Trust that you do have options if your accommodation request is denied, but consider what strategies for resolving the situation are right for you. Keep calm, ask why the request was denied, gather more information, and know your rights under the ADA. Explore your options — there might be a more ‘appealing’ option than you realize!