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What is a reasonable accommodation?

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that safeguards Americans with disabilities against discrimination, including discrimination in the workplace. Under the ADA, employers cannot refuse to hire or promote, or fire or demote an employee with a disability, actual or perceived. In addition, employers must make reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities.

Unfortunately, many employers fail to do so, violating federal and state law and making it difficult, or impossible, for employees with disabilities to perform their job duties. So, what types of accommodations are employers required to make?

Legally, a reasonable accommodation is any adjustment or change to a work environment that allows a qualified employee with a disability to perform his or her essential job functions, and to enjoy the benefits and privileges of the job in equal measure to his or her non-disabled coworkers. Examples include:

  • Installing ramps or elevators, or otherwise making work facilities accessible to employees with physical disabilities
  • Allowing for part-time or modified work schedules, such as work-from-home
  • Modifying work equipment (for example, providing blind has adaptive computer equipment)
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters
  • Updating tests and training materials (for example, providing written materials in Braille or providing sign language interpreters)
  • Job restructuring, including reassigning non-essential job functions or altering how and when a job function is performed
  • Permitting the use of accrued paid leave, or unpaid leave without penalizing the employee
  • Providing periodic breaks either to sit down to rest, or to walk about

The duty to accommodate hinges on what is "reasonable," if the accommodation would cause undue hardship to the employer, than it is not reasonable and not required by law.

Employees and employers often disagree over accommodations. Other times, employees feel powerless and are afraid requesting an accommodation will result in job loss. Determining what type of accommodation is reasonable and understanding your rights as a disabled worker can seem overwhelming. If you have been discriminated against at work due to a disability, or if you have questions about reasonable accommodations, consider contacting a lawyer about your situation.

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