Employee Disability Accommodations:
Handle it with Confidence
When having disabled employees –or applicants for a position– one of the most important aspects to consider is the proper way to respect and guarantee their rights. Here is a helpful summary for a better reasonable accommodation process in the workplace for your company.
What are Reasonable Accommodations in the workplace?
A reasonable accommodation is a logical adjustment that employers make to a job and/or the work environment to enable a disabled –but qualified– person to perform the essential functions of the position.
According to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), employers of five or more employees have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with a physical or mental disability to perform the essential functions of their jobs unless it would cause undue hardship to the employer. This obligation also includes analyzing applicants’ requests for reasonable accommodation.
Reasonable accommodation can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Changing job duties
- Providing leave for medical care
- Changing work schedules
- Relocating the work area
- Providing mechanical or electrical aids
For the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if reassignment is required, an employer must place the employee in a vacant position for which he or she is qualified without requiring the employee to compete with other applicants for open positions.
Nature of the Medical Condition
The employees’ medical conditions who request a reasonable accommodation can be classified as follows:
- Obvious or substantiated disability: Both the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are obvious, or the employee has already provided the employer with sufficient information about it.
- Not obvious disability: The disability and the need are not obvious. When it happens, the employer may ask for reasonable documentation and functional limitations.
Reasonable Accommodation Situations
The different and general circumstances for employers to provide reasonable accommodation are:
- An application process that enables a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the desired position.
- A work environment that enables a qualified employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.
- A modification that enables an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges afforded to other non-disabled employees.
What Is a request for a Reasonable Accommodation?
When an employee or applicant requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer’s obligation to engage in the interactive process begins. Those requests can be made to:
- The employee’s supervisor.
- A manager or supervisor in the employee’s chain-in-command.
- An EEO officer.
- An officer designated by the employer to handle the reasonable accommodation process.
- Any employee with whom an applicant has contact.
In addition, a statement that the employee needs adjustment or change in work due to a physical disability, mental disability, or medical condition:
- May be written in “plain English” and need not mention the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), FEHA, disability, or reasonable accommodation.
- May be made by a family member, friend, healthcare provider, or another representative.
- May be made at any time.
An employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause undue hardship to the employer.
Following the EEOC guidance, an indefinite leave can constitute an undue hardship, as the employees cannot determine whether or when they will be able to return to work, and so does not have to be provided as a reasonable accommodation. If an employer determines that holding open the job will cause undue hardship, then it must consider whether there are alternatives that permit the employee to complete the leave and return to work.
This process is based on the communication and collaborative effort between employer and employee to determine what, if any, accommodation should be provided. Both the ADA and the FEHA require employers to engage in a good-faith interactive process with employees in need of reasonable accommodation.
Among its objectives, the interactive process is intended to:
- Assess the nature of the condition.
- Determine the extent the condition imposes limitations on the ability to perform essential functions of the job.
- Identify possible accommodations that may or may not overcome those limitations.
- Analyze the reasonableness of the accommodation.
- Implement the most appropriate accommodation, if any.
- Document your communications with the employee.
CLS Is Your Partner
As a small or medium-sized employer, you may not need a full-time in-house HR manager. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need a reliable HR partner. At CLS, we specialize in proactively protecting your organization from HR-related issues, which includes minimizing the impact when problems arise by providing the expert guidance you need to resolve the matter with confidence.
California Labor Solutions serves as your guide regarding effectively engaging in the interactive process, analyzing the options, and documenting all of it to be able to show that the compliance obligations of the employer have been satisfied with due diligence and good faith efforts. Get ahead of the curve. Contact us now to review your disability accommodation policy and procedure before your employee or job applicant requests disability accommodation. Contact us!
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