What Does “Reasonable Accommodation” Mean?

A round conference table room with people surrounding it where reasonable accommodations have been made to help employees with their workload.

One-third of our lives are spent at work. While it can be easy to imagine that work can sometimes be a less than desirable place to be when we’d rather be at home or with friends or family, it can be a downright hostile and inhospitable place for those who need accommodations or modifications and do not receive them. Here, we outline what a reasonable accommodation is in the workplace setting, the meaning of a disability, how to ask for a reasonable accommodation, and why hiring one of our attorneys if you feel you’ve been denied reasonable accommodation might be in your best interests.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation means modifications made on behalf of an employee by employers or service providers. It’s most commonly associated with the workplace. In a workplace context, this can extend from the application process to a work environment. Reasonable accommodations are made to help those with disabilities have equal access and opportunities and to keep them from being discriminated against. Reasonable accommodations might apply beyond the workplace to include public facilities and services, education, or even housing. Reasonable accommodation examples include outfitting a workplace with accessible ramps and restrooms, allowing modified duties, or offering remote work to those with disabilities.

How do I know if I have a disability?

It’s important to know that there’s a difference between a medical disability and a legal one. Legally, the ADA refers to a person with a disability as “someone with physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Even if you do not have a medically diagnosed disability, you could still be considered as having one under the ADA, which means you can also be protected from discrimination. This could mean conditions ranging from mental health issues to autoimmune disorders to mobility impairments.

How can I ask for reasonable accommodation?

If you think you need reasonable accommodation at work, you do not need to mention the ADA or the words “reasonable accommodation.” You can simply ask for an adjustment or change at work related to a medical condition. It can be a face-to-face conversation, an email, or any other form of communication, although having a written paper trail is always best in case there is a future dispute. If your workplace has you sign a form, request a copy. Remember, you do not need to have a diagnosed medical disability to ask for a reasonable accommodation. Your employer might ask you, however, for a doctor’s opinion in writing or other supporting information to show that you have a disability and how the accommodation you request can help you fulfill your job duties. However, as discussed below, there are limits to what information they can request. Reasonable accommodations can be made for in-person and remote work.

Examples of reasonable accommodation requests

Reasonable accommodation requests can vary depending on your disability. For example, if you are in a wheelchair and there is no ramp at work, you can request one. If you cannot see the screen at work due to a vision impairment, a screen reader can be requested or if you are hearing impaired and use sign language, an interpreter can be requested. If you need a service animal, a policy modification to accommodate the animal can be requested. None of these are considered “special treatment” by the government but rather making the workplace more accessible, often benefitting those other than yourself.

Recently, the government approved the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act giving pregnant workers reasonable accommodations such as closer parking, additional break time, and being excused from strenuous activities, to name a few.

Examples that do not qualify for reasonable accommodations might include an accommodation that puts an unfair workload on another employee, a request for duties to be shared, or requiring the hiring of another employee to complete your duties. These all might fall under undue hardship for the company and result in your accommodation being denied.

I feel like my company did not accommodate me. Do I need a lawyer?

If you feel that your company discriminated against you and declined a reasonable accommodation, then hiring a lawyer who specializes in employment and discrimination might be a good idea. A legal professional can help you get a more favorable outcome including compliance by the company or a settlement, depending on the circumstances. Employment laws can be complex and filled with legal jargon, and a lawyer can be your guide, navigating you toward the best possible outcome.

If you hire a lawyer, they will look over the paperwork (hence why it’s important to keep a paper trail) and let you know if there’s enough for a legal claim and how to proceed. They can advise you of your rights under the ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity laws as well as any other pertinent ones. If you have a claim, they can represent you at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or in court, helping with negotiations and settlements if applicable.

Contact us to set up a consultation if you feel you’ve been discriminated against.