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Navigating Employee Accommodation Requests Under the ADA: A Guide for Employers

Nov 09, 2023

Navigating Employee Accommodation Requests Under the ADA: A Guide for Employers


There are many laws that protect individuals with disabilities in the workplace. This includes disabilities that are physical, mental and those which are “invisible illnesses” and cannot be seen. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal law that provides such protections to certain individuals and plays a crucial role in ensuring that individuals with disabilities have equal opportunities in the workplace. When an employee requests a reasonable accommodation under the ADA, employers have a responsibility to engage in an interactive process such that reasonable requests can be granted.  This article outlines the steps employers should take when an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation in order to create more inclusive environments while also complying with legal obligations.

 Understanding the ADA and Reasonable Accommodations

 The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of public life, including employment. One of its key provisions is the requirement for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, allowing them to perform essential job functions and enjoy equal opportunities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to the work environment that enables an employee with a disability to perform their job duties effectively.


Steps for Employers When an Accommodation Request is Made


  1. Know How to Spot An Accommodation Request: Employees may not know how to request a reasonable accommodation. They might not reference the ADA, and might not disclose a specific disability during the initial communication. Educate your management team on how to spot a request, even if the requesting employee does not use the formal/legal language. Accommodation requests are typically conveyed when an employee says they are having difficulty performing a function at work, and it might involve a medical issue.


  1. Open Communication: When an employee requests an accommodation, initiate a respectful and private conversation to better understand their needs. Keep the lines of communication open and encourage them to provide information about their disability, limitations, and how they believe an accommodation would help.


  1. Review and Evaluate: Thoroughly review the employee's request and assess whether the accommodation is reasonable and necessary. Consider consulting with experts like employment counsel to help ensure the company is following the law and not making any illegal requests for information.


  1. Interactive Process: Engage in an interactive process with the employee. Discuss potential accommodation options, taking their preferences and medical recommendations into account. Brainstorm possible solutions that would enable the employee to perform their job duties effectively.


  1. Identify Reasonable Accommodations: While the type of accommodation will vary based on the employee's needs, restrictions and the nature of the job, examples of reasonable accommodations might include flexible work hours, modified workstations, assistive technology, job restructuring, or providing additional training.


  1. Timely Response: Respond promptly to the employee's accommodation request. Even if an immediate solution isn't apparent, communicate that their request is being taken seriously and that the process is underway.


  1. Confidentiality: Maintain strict confidentiality regarding the employee's disability and accommodation. Share information only with those who need to know to facilitate the accommodation process.


  1. Document the Process: Keep thorough records of all interactions and correspondence related to the accommodation request. This documentation can serve as evidence of compliance with the ADA's requirements.


  1. Implement and Monitor: Once an accommodation is agreed upon, implement it promptly. Regularly check in with the employee to ensure that the accommodation is effective and make adjustments as needed.


Legal Considerations


It's important for employers to remember that not all accommodation requests will be reasonable or feasible. An accommodation is considered unreasonable if it imposes an undue hardship on the employer, involving significant difficulty or expense. Generalized conclusions will not suffice to support a claim of undue hardship. Instead, undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense. Employers should exercise caution and consult with legal counsel before denying an accommodation request based on undue hardship.


Navigating reasonable accommodation requests under the ADA is a critical aspect of creating an inclusive workplace where all employees can thrive. By following a well-defined process that prioritizes open communication, collaboration, and respect for the individual needs of employees, employers can fulfill their legal obligations while fostering an environment of equality, diversity, and mutual respect. Ultimately, a commitment to reasonable accommodations benefits not only employees with disabilities but also the organization as a whole, leading to improved morale, productivity, and reputation.

Want to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Sign up for the ADA Course.


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