Is my employer required to accommodate my disability?

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating based on an employee’s disability. The goal of disability laws is to keep employees working. Employers must engage in an “interactive process” to determine what “reasonable accommodations” can be made that will allow the employee to keep working with a disability.

First an employer must establish that an employee has a “disability” under the terms of the ADA. If you have a medical condition that significantly limits your ability to perform your regular job for more than a brief period of time, then you most likely have a disability under the law. You should report your disability to your manager or human resources, ideally in writing, and be sure to keep a copy. If you have an idea of what sort of accommodation you need, you should request it, and provide a supporting doctor’s note if you have one. Even if you aren’t sure what accommodation you need, the employer must make its best effort to find a suitable accommodation for you.

A reasonable accommodation is any modification to your job, or the physical work environment, that allows you to keep performing the essential functions of the job. Or, as a last resort, the employer may try to find you a new job, or else give you extended medical leave as an accommodation.

Common examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Improving accessibility in the work area;
  • Providing or adjusting a product, equipment (such as an ergonomic workspace), or software program;
  • Allowing a flexible work schedule;
  • Providing an aid or a service to increase an employee’s access to the workplace;
  • Temporary light-duty work;
  • Changing job duties;
  • Extended medical leave (even if your FMLA time has run out);
  • Reassignment or transfer to a vacant position;
  • Anything else that allows the employee to keep working.

An accommodation is reasonable as long as it does not cause the employer to suffer an “undue hardship”. Employers cannot avoid providing a reasonable accommodation just because doing so would be somewhat inconvenient, or require the employer to spend an amount of money easily available to them. The employer has a high burden to prove that the accommodation would really involve such a significant difficulty or expense as to be an “undue hardship.” However, this depends partly on circumstance. A larger employer, with more resources and more employees, may be more able to provide accommodation than a small business.

The San Francisco employment attorneys at the McCormack Law Firm have helped dozens of employees who have been denied reasonable accommodation, or terminated for no good reason after requesting an accommodation. Call today for a free consultation.

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