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The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires most employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

What Is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is any change to employment, including the application or hiring process, that allows a person with a disability who is otherwise qualified for the position to perform the job’s essential functions and receive equal employment opportunities. A reasonable accommodation is one that does not create an undue hardship or a direct threat to the employer.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations:

  • Providing alternate software, such as software that magnifies a computer screen for a low-vision employee
  • Allowing an employee to bring a service animal to work
  • Issuing an accessible parking spot
  • Having a sign language interpreter available at certain meetings or training
  • Replacing a doorknob with an accessible door handle
  • Creating modified or flexible work schedules

Types of Reasonable Accommodation

A reasonable accommodation must be effective. Determination of an effective reasonable accommodation will require collaboration between the employee, who knows the barriers presented by their disability, and the employer, who knows the systems, policies, and practices in place at the job. A reasonable accommodation can come in many forms and will vary depending on the way the employee’s disability affects their ability to perform their job duties and their work environment.

Reasonable accommodations often fall into one of these categories:

  • Providing an alternative format for a job duty. For example, if an employee who processes information better through reading rather than auditory means, an accommodation could be to provide feedback in writing.
  • Changing job tasks
  • Improving accessibility in a work area
  • Providing or adjusting products, equipment, or software
  • Allowing a flexible schedule
  • Reassigning to a vacant position that does not present the same difficulties
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Who Is Considered an Individual With a Disability?

An individual qualifies for a reasonable accommodation if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Employers may request medical documentation to confirm that the employee has a disability, and needs an accommodation.

What Should I Do if I'm Being Denied Reasonable Accommodation?

If your employer has denied a reasonable accommodation, you should clarify the employer’s basis for rejecting your request. You should also ask the employer to determined whether an alternative accommodation is acceptable. With that information, you can work with your lawyer to assess the strength of the employer’s denial. If you don’t have an attorney, you can through the appeal process which some employers provide. If there is no formal appeal process, you will need to contact human resources or a higher-level manager to request an appeal.

If the appeal attempt is unsuccessful, you should discuss your options with an employment attorney.

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Employers Who Are Required to Provide Reasonable Accommodation

Any employer with 15 or more employees is generally required to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities under federal law. State and local laws may lower the number of employees required, but they cannot raise the number of required employees. California state law requires employers with five or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations.

How Can an Employee Rights Lawyer Help Me?

An employee rights lawyer can help you in all stages of the process, from requesting a reasonable accommodation and ensuring it is implemented to challenging the denial of a request. This includes filing a complaint with the EEOC, attending EEOC administrative hearings, filing lawsuits, and managing settlement negotiations.

Frequently (un)asked questions

An employer can only deny a reasonable accommodation request if (1) they employ too few employees to be subject to the ADA or other state requirements, or (2) the request creates an undue hardship or direct threat. To support a claim of undue hardship, the employer must demonstrate that the accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense, and it will be on a case-by-case analysis. The analysis will take into account factors like the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size of the employer and the resources, structure, and nature of the employer’s operation.

If the employee’s requested accommodation is an undue hardship, the employer must work to identify an alternate accommodation that does not pose the same hardship. Additionally, if an expense is creating the undue hardship, the employee should be given an opportunity to pay the portion of the cost that is creating the hardship.

Work with your employee rights lawyer to assess the strength of the employer’s case and to fight for your requested accommodation or an alternate accommodation that meets your needs.

There are no specific words required to request an accommodation. However, the best practice is for the employee to request an accommodation in writing or email, and to attach any supporting doctor’s notes. This can start a dialogue about the most appropriate accommodation. Be sure to document the entire process, including date of notice, date of agreed-upon accommodation, and implementation date of the accommodation.

There is no obligation to use formal terms, such as using the phrase “reasonable accommodation” or referencing the ADA. You must simply make it clear to your employer that you need a modification because of your disability.

If an employer knows or should know that an employee may require a disability accommodation, then California law the employer to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with the employee or applicant to determine effective reasonable accommodations, if any. This is true regardless of whether the employee requested an accommodation.

It is illegal to terminate an employee because of their disability in most circumstances. As long as you are able to perform the essential functions of your job with a reasonable accommodation, you cannot be fired because of your disability. Essential functions are those that are fundamental to the position and that someone in the position must absolutely need to do.

If you believe you have been fired because of your disability, contact an employee rights attorney to help evaluate whether you were wrongfully terminated.

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After experiencing any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it’s difficult to know where to turn, to know who you can trust. At the Malk Law Firm, we have successfully represented employees against large and small companies (all over California and Washington) in various labor and employment-related lawsuits.

Trust our team to fight for your rights in the workplace. Our employee rights lawyer is available for a consultation to discuss your options. Please reach out today to tell us about your case.

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