Accommodating Diversity: Navigating Requests for Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
-Written by Attorney Beth Bowen
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stands as a beacon of progress, ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities in employment. Enacted in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of public life, including employment. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local government. One of its key provisions mandates employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, ensuring they can perform essential job functions.
Who Can Request Accommodations?
The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person with a record of such an impairment, or a person perceived as having such an impairment. This broad definition encompasses a wide range of conditions, from mobility impairments to chronic health conditions and mental health disorders.
The Accommodation Process:
Requesting accommodations under the ADA is a collaborative process between the individual and their employer. It begins with the individual making a request, preferably in writing, and providing relevant documentation of their disability and the need for accommodation. Employers are then required to engage in an interactive process to determine the appropriate accommodations, considering factors such as the nature of the disability, the essential job functions, and the workplace environment.
Types of Accommodations:
Accommodations under the ADA can take various forms, depending on the individual’s needs and the nature of their job. Examples include modifying work schedules, providing assistive technology or adaptive equipment, restructuring job duties, altering workplace facilities, providing intermittent or extended leave, and offering telework options where providing such accommodations would not create an undue hardship on the employer. The goal is to remove barriers to employment and enable individuals with disabilities to perform their job duties effectively.
Legal Protections and Employer Responsibilities:
Employers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations, unless doing so would impose undue hardship on the business. Employers cannot discriminate against employees or applicants based on their disability status or their request for accommodation. Additionally, the ADA prohibits retaliation against individuals for requesting accommodations or asserting their rights under the law.
Best Practices for Employees seeking Accommodations under the ADA:
- Review your employer’s policies regarding requests for accommodations to ensure you are following policy while requesting accommodations
- Request an accommodation in writing with supporting documentation from your healthcare provider(s)
- Consult an employment attorney for advice specific to your disability and requests for accommodations
Best Practices for Employers:
To foster an inclusive workplace culture and comply with the ADA, employers should proactively educate managers and employees about accommodation procedures and disability awareness. Establishing clear policies and procedures for handling accommodation requests, training staff on the importance of inclusion, and creating a supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable requesting accommodations are essential steps toward compliance.
Requests for accommodations under the ADA are not just legal obligations; they are opportunities to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. By embracing the principles of the ADA and proactively supporting individuals with disabilities, we can create environments where everyone can thrive professionally, regardless of their abilities.