The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who need them. A failure to do so could be disability discrimination. But what is a reasonable accommodation, and what should you do if your employer refuses to provide one?
Reasonable Accommodations: The Basics
California law and federal laws protect workers with disabilities and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations.
A reasonable accommodation is some type of assistance that allows a person to do his or her job. That can mean changes to a position or to a workplace, or another type of assistance. The ADA requires employers to provide these reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause an undue hardship.
In this case, an undue hardship refers to an excessive difficulty or unreasonable cost.
Related: What is Medical Discrimination?
Usually, reasonable accommodations involve:
- Changes to the job application process to let qualified applicants participate in the application process
- Changes to a work environment or the way in which an employee performs a job so that a qualified person with a disability can perform the job’s essential functions
- Changes that let an employee with a disability receive the same benefits and privileges that other employees have
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
Anyone who has a disability can ask his or her employer to make a reasonable accommodation. Here are a few examples of reasonable accommodations (but keep in mind that “reasonable” depends on the employer, the workplace and the employee):
- Allowing an employee to transfer to a similar job in another location so he or she can better access medical care
- Changing training materials so a person with a disability can use them effectively
- Hiring an interpreter or other specialists
- Modifying existing facilities so disabled employees can use them (like changing the height of desks or equipment, installing telecommunication equipment that the deaf can use, or installing screen magnifiers on computers)
- Modifying work policies
- Providing a reasonable amount of unpaid leave for medical treatment, beyond what FMLA allows
- Reassigning the employee to a vacant position
- Restructuring a work schedule so an employee can receive medical treatments
For some employers, these might not be reasonable accommodations. A small employer with only one location can’t allow an employee to transfer to another location. However, you can ask your employer to make any type of accommodation you want – it’s just that the employer doesn’t necessarily have to agree to it. If the accommodation you want would cost the employer too much money, or if it would be very difficult to pull off, your employer may legally be entitled to say no.
Undue Hardship and Reasonable Accommodations
Again, employers don’t have to provide accommodations if they would cause undue hardship. That means the request for accommodation is unreasonable, given the employer’s circumstances. If you were to sue your employer for failing to make a reasonable accommodation, the court would look at things like:
- How much it would cost the employer to make the accommodation
- Whether the employer has the financial resources to provide the accommodation
- The type of operations the facility performs
- The nature of the business (like its size, structure and composition)
- The amount of costs the employer has already put into the workplace
It’s not only about money, though. The court will also look at tax credits and deductions an employer could use to provide accommodations, as well as whether the employee was willing to pay for some of the costs. It can be very difficult for an employer to claim that making an accommodation would cause undue hardship.
What Should You Do if Your Employer Refuses to Make a Reasonable Accommodation?
First things first: You must request the accommodation. Your employer doesn’t have to anticipate your needs – you have to make the request. You don’t have to request it in writing; verbal is fine. Another employee can make the request instead.
If your employer ignores your request, put it in writing. Specifically mention the Americans with Disabilities Act, and note that you have a legal right to a reasonable accommodation.
Then, if your employer continues to ignore your request, you may need to talk to an attorney.
You can call us at 818-230-8380 for a free case review. We’ll talk about your situation and gather information to find out if you have a case.