What Is a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment or modification an employer provides to a person with a disability to make sure they have equal access to employment opportunities. Reasonable accommodations are an important aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal civil rights law. The ADA was enacted to prevent discrimination and help individuals with disabilities to enjoy full participation in all areas of society.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the ADA law, employers must provide reasonable accommodations so persons with disabilities can apply for a job, perform a job, or have access to benefits equal to what is offered to other employees.

The good news is that 58% of reasonable accommodations are free.

However, if the accommodation will mean an undue hardship, resulting in significant cost or difficulty based on the employer’s resources and operations, they may not need to provide it.

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Types of reasonable accommodation

Accommodations can take many forms, and do not necessarily have to cost anything. A reasonable accommodation can be as simple as allowing more frequent employee breaks, adjusting a work schedule, or making an area more accessible.

You can develop a reasonable accommodation policy that clearly explains accommodations already in place, and how requests for accommodations will be handled.

Most accommodations fall into one of these categories:

  • Accessible materials
  • Changes to the workplace
  • Job restructuring
  • Working at home
  • Modifying work schedules
  • Leave
  • Modifying policy
  • Modifying supervisory methods
  • Job coaches
  • Job reassignment

FREE help for employers

In an effort to support businesses of every size that hire persons with disabilities, the government has created JAN, The Job Accommodation Network. Anne E. Hirsh, MS, CPDM, is the Director of Collaborations, Evaluation, and Reporting at JAN, and she gave Patriot Software a helpful quote that explains how JAN can help you.

“Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.

“JAN is a free and confidential resource for you to navigate the reasonable accommodation process. JAN’s trusted consultants offer one-on-one guidance on workplace accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Employers in [JAN’s] study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500. Of those responding, 74% reported the accommodations were either very effective or extremely effective.”
Anne E. Hirsh, MS, CPDM — JAN CoDirector

“At JAN, we conduct research to look at the cost and benefit of accommodation. Employers in the study reported that a high percentage (58%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500. Of those responding, 74% reported the accommodations were either very effective or extremely effective. Visit AskJAN.org to learn more. JAN is a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).”

Universal design can help everyone

Universal design refers to making a business’s environment, policies, technology, etc., more accessible for everyone. When you follow the principles of universal design, you may not need as many individual accommodations. Universal design is best explained with examples.

Examples of universal design

If you have a worker permanently or temporarily confined to a wheelchair, you may have to make a curb cut near your entrance. However, with universal design, you might already have a curb cut.

Initially, curb cuts were meant to accommodate persons in a wheelchair. But, it turns out that people pulling a sample case, pushing a stroller, dragging luggage, or suffering from bad knees benefit from curb cuts as well. Making your front door more accessible might encourage more customers to enter, or make for happier employees.

Another example of universal design is adjustable desks. Every Patriot employee has access to an adjustable desk so that they can work comfortably standing or sitting. It makes employees happy because of the health hazards of sitting all day and being able to choose their preferred work position. From an employer’s perspective, it can also increase productivity in the workplace when workers have the ability to “recharge” and work while standing.

With adjustable desks, a new employee in a wheelchair will not need a special desk that can be adjusted to accommodate the armrests on the wheelchair.

Handling a request for reasonable accommodation

When a person with a disability requests an accommodation, the employer must respond promptly. If the reason for the request is not obvious, the employer can ask for documentation of the disability and a reason for the accommodation. (Note: there are limits to what the employer can ask. For example, the employer can’t ask for the employee’s complete medical record or ask about unrelated conditions.)

The EEOC suggests discussing the situation with the employee and finding a workable solution for the accommodation. (Where one accommodation may mean an undue hardship on a business, another may not.)

Employers should tell employees about any delays or problems with providing the accommodation. If they deny a request, they should completely explain the basis for their decision.

What is the first step?

Meet Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA RAS, of Abadi Accessibility. Marcela is an accessibility specialist in Dallas, where she offers reviews, site assessments, and training to business owners. She is the author of The ADA Companion Guide.

We asked Marcela “what is the first step when an employer needs to make a reasonable accommodation?” Here is her response:

“When an employer has either hired a person with disabilities or has an employee who has become disabled while working for them, the first thing they must do is to sit with their employee and together they should determine what are the barriers that might keep him from performing his job duties.

“It really depends on the disability. It could be mobility issues, visual or communication issues. In any case, there are so many ways that an employer could reasonably accommodate their employee.

“It is important to note that a culture of inclusion will benefit everyone.”
Marcela Abadi Rhoads, AIA, RAS

“It is important to note that a culture of inclusion will benefit everyone. Things that might be an accommodation for a person with disabilities might, in the end, benefit other people. For example, adding power-operated doors could also help other associates who might need assistance while carrying packages or pushing carts.

“But, in essence, accommodations do not have to be difficult to provide. Allowing for a different work schedule for example, in order to facilitate the person who might need time off for physical therapy or to arrive via public transportation is not difficult. Also, providing computers with software that provides assistance to low vision or hearing impaired people is also readily available.

“The point is that if we open our minds to the idea that making accommodations is not difficult—but would benefit both the employee and the employer—it will go a long way to tear down barriers that we might have in the workplace.”

Further Information

Employers may qualify for a tax credit or other types of funding to help provide the reasonable accommodation. Refer to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for further description.

To help make an informed decision, refer to the Employers’ Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) from the Job Accommodation Network.

For more information on hiring people with disabilities, refer to the article Adding Workers With Disabilities to Your Payroll: Info for Employers.

Cloud-based, full service payroll software can save you time and money every pay period. Patriot Software offers an HR software add-on to safely hold personnel files (HR), and online time and attendance software that also shares documents–like your reasonable accommodation policy–with employees (Time & Attendance). Try it for free today!

This article has been updated from its original publication date of November 19, 2011.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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