Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications which enable people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of a job efficiently and productively. Accommodations vary depending upon the nature of the job and the needs of the individual applicant or employee. Not all people with disabilities (or even all people with the same disability) will require the same accommodation or any accommodation.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to:
- Job restructuring such as altering when and/or how an essential function of a job is performed or reallocating marginal job functions that an employee is unable to perform because of a disability;
- Modifying work schedules to allow an employee with a disability to attend to matters related to treating the disability such as medical appointments or medication schedules;
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices such as adjusting a desk height to accommodate an employee who uses a wheelchair or providing an employee with quadriplegia a mouth stick device to type on their computer;
- Adjusting or modifying tests and training materials (for example, providing materials in alternate formats, such as braille, CD or large print);
- Providing assistive technology or devices such as computer screen readers for employees with visual impairments or a specific telephone that is compatible with an employee's hearing aid (this does not include personal assistive devices such as hearing aids or prosthetics);
- Reassigning an employee with a disability to a vacant position for which he or she is qualified when no longer able to perform the essential functions of the current job with or without reasonable accommodations. This accommodation is available only for incumbent workers.
For examples of accommodations for specific disabilities, visit the Job Accommodation Network.
Making Reasonable Accommodations
Basic Guidelines for Employers
An employer generally does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless an individual with a disability has asked for one. Once a request is made, the employer must engage in an interactive process.
Selecting an Accommodation
Where more than one accommodation would work, an employer may choose the one that is less costly or that is easier to provide.
An employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee as long as it does not impose an "undue hardship" on the operation of the employer's business.
An accommodation may impose an undue hardship if it requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer's size, financial resources (including the resources of the parent company), and the nature and structure of its operation.
Essential Job Functions
An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation. Employees are expected to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.
Cost of Accommodations
The cost of providing an accommodation is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Various studies have found that reasonable accommodations cost much less than many employers expect.
The Job Accommodation Network has found that:
- 56% of accommodations cost nothing
- 37% incur a one-time cost, typically of only $600
- Only 4% of accommodations result in an ongoing annual cost
Receiving Requests for Accommodations
An applicant or employee may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the employment cycle if they have a disability and cannot fully participate in the application process or perform the essential function(s) of the job. An applicant/employee's request for a workplace adjustment qualifies as a request for reasonable accommodation if that change is requested for a reason related to his/her disability.
To request an accommodation, employees:
- Do not need to use medical terminology or explain their disability/condition (they may use "plain English")
- May ask for a workplace adjustment without specifically referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or using the words "accommodation" or "reasonable accommodation"
- Should specify that the request is related to a disability
- May ask a third party to request the accommodation on their behalf (medical professional, vocational rehabilitation counselor, job coach, etc.)
Responding to Requests for Reasonable Accommodations
Following an accommodation request, the employer and the individual should engage in an interactive process to identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.
If a manager or direct supervisor receives an accommodation request, he or she should refer the employee to HR or another person who is responsible for responding to such requests.
The HR person receiving the accommodations request may:
- Ask questions that will enable him/her to make an informed decision about how to meet the request. Including:
- What type of accommodation is the employee requesting?
- What is the nature of the employee's disability/functional limitation?
- Request documentation of the disability from an appropriate professional
- Do further research on the ADA or reasonable accommodations.
- Refer the employee to the appropriate person within the organization, if there is a designated individual who handles accommodations requests, and then follow up with both to ensure the request is adequately addressed.
Implementing Reasonable Accommodations
There are no specific policies or procedures that employers must follow when trying to accommodate an employee with a disability, but these requests must be made within a reasonable time. It is also advisable to communicate with employees regarding progress made in providing the accommodation especially if it may take some time. The accommodations process is most effective when:
- It is focused on essential job tasks and the physical or cognitive functions necessary to complete them, not on the employee's disability
- Employees are asked to suggest the type of accommodations that may be most effective to ensure their productivity
- Employers customize positions to capitalize on the strengths and creativity of the employee
Formal Accommodations Process
Some employers opt to establish formal accommodations policies and procedures and to centralize this function. Some of the benefits of having a formal policy include:
- Increased likelihood that accommodation requests will be handled properly and consistently
- Improved documentation of an employer's efforts to comply with the ADA
- Improved understanding among employees about what to expect if they request an accommodation
- Reduction in the direct cost to departments of accommodations through the creation of a centralized fund, which may thereby reduce disincentives to provide an accommodation
Job Accommodation Network<http://www.askjan.org>
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. JAN is the most comprehensive job accommodation resource available.
Tips for Human Resource Professionals<http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/edi/hr_tips>
This Employment and Disability Institute series provides information for Human Resource Professionals in recruiting, hiring, advancing and retaining employees with disabilities.
Accommodation and Compliance Series: Job Descriptions<https://askjan.org/media/jobdescriptions.html>
This Job Accommodation Network (JAN) resource provides guidance on writing job descriptions, including formulating a job description, using O*NET, and the accommodations process.
Personal Assistance Services<http://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/PersonalAssistanceServices.htm>
This resource from the Department of Labor provides a brief explanation of traditional personal assistance services, work-related services, and references to additional information.
Computer Electronic Accommodations Program<http://www.tricare.mil/cap/>
The Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities, federal managers, supervisors, and IT professionals. CAP increases access to information and works to remove barriers to employment opportunities by eliminating the costs of assistive technology and accommodation solutions in the Department of Defense (DoD) and throughout the Federal government.
Accommodations for Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/psychiatric.htm>
This resource provides targeted information for employers on addressing psychiatric disabilities. This includes information on types of psychiatric disabilities, appropriate accommodations and training to assist employers in effectively hiring, accommodating, and managing employees with psychiatric disabilities.
Investing in People: Job Accommodation Situations and Solutions<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/misc/invest.htm>
This comprehensive Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) review addresses accommodations, including situational examples with practical solutions for employers.
Employer's Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodations<http://askjan.org/erguide/>
This resource from the Job Accommodation Network provides information on the job accommodation, pre-employment and interviewing processes when hiring candidates with disabilities.
Advancing Opportunities: Accommodation Resources for Federal Managers and Employees<http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/misc/advance.htm>
This Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) resource provides information to assist federal managers in providing accommodations related to hiring, retention and advancement of qualified individuals with disabilities.
Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact<http://askjan.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html>
This Job Accommodation Network (JAN) research summary discusses the costs and benefits to employers of providing workplace accommodations. It concludes that the benefits employers receive from making workplace accommodations far outweigh the costs. JAN found that providing accommodations resulted in retention of valuable employees, improved productivity and morale, and reduced workers’ compensation and training costs, and improved company diversity. 57% of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make, while the rest typically cost only $500.