Any employer who is subject to the Federal American Disabilities Act (ADA) or the state equivalents (varies based on the state) needs to be aware that you could be liable if you do not properly handle all accommodation requests.
In this Nuts & Bolts Blog, we provide a brief overview of the accommodation process. If you feel that you must deny an accommodation request, you are encouraged to seek professional advice prior to denying the request.
Preventive Measures – Immediately and hopefully before a request comes through, ensure that your policies are up to date, appropriate procedures are mapped out, and all management are trained on your policies.
Request Received – An employer doesn’t have to ask if an employee needs an accommodation, but rather the employee needs to initiate the process. The request does not need the words “I need an accommodation for a disability”. To document you should have a form for the employee to fill out that start the accommodation request process, but under no circumstances should the request be ignored.
Request Review – Depending on the circumstances, the initial review should be done with the employee. If the request is straightforward and is granted by the employer the process can stop here (with appropriate documentation).
For complicated/expensive requests, the employer must engage in an active discussion with the employee prior to denying the accommodation. While the employer does not have to come up accommodations nor grant every request, the employer must engage in active dialogue with the employee.
Quick Tip: Avoid questions that ask about an employee’s disability or medical condition but rather focus on the job duties and requirements and what the employee needs to accomplish those duties and requirements.
Reasonable or unreasonable – Every accommodation request must be evaluated by the employer to determine if it is reasonable. Even if the request is determined reasonable an employer must evaluate each request on a case by case basis to determine if a particular request creates an undue hardship on the employer.
The EEOC defines an undue hardship to mean a “significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation.”
Determining if an accommodation is reasonable and not an undue hardship is where most employers struggle with the process. If you have any doubt in your evaluation, get professional help.
Quick Tip: Ensure to include the employee in the entire process, explaining why the accommodation is unreasonable or an undue burden.
Documentation– Ensure that the entire process is documented and filed in the appropriate confidential file.
The above guide is a brief overview of the ADA Accommodation process. With more and more accommodations that are considered disabilities under the ADA, it is important for all employers to be familiar with the regulations and obtain guidance as needed.