What is a “reasonable accommodation” for disability under California employment law?
One purpose of California’s disability law is to ensure employees with a disability or medical condition can lead normal lives and continue working if possible. A “reasonable accommodation” is any action the employer can take to help the disabled employee keep his or her job.
Employers are not allowed to discriminate against disabled employees. If a worker becomes disabled, or has serious illness, employers with at least five employees are required to make best efforts to find a “reasonable accommodation” that will help the employee keep working. If the employer fails to try, or terminates the employee for no good cause, the employee may have a legal case for disability discrimination and wrongful termination.
Everyone’s situation is different, and the list of possible accommodations is nearly endless. But some common reasonable accommodations include:
- Extension of medical leave, even if the employee has used up FMLA, or does not qualify for FMLA or CFRA.
- Modified work equipment, such as voice recognition software, or ergonomic workspace
- Modified duties, or light duty labor
- Reduced or flexible work schedule, or work from home
- Allowing time-off for medical appointments
- Making documents available in braille or large print
- Modifying the layout of the workplace to make it more accessible
- As a last resort, reassigning an employee to another open position that the employee is qualified for
It will be helpful if your doctor can provide a note specifying the accommodation you need. If this is not possible, you can still request an accommodation from your manager or H.R. For example, if a cashier has serious lower back pain, they can request a chair while operating the cash register, even if the employer does not normally allow employees to sit while they are working. Once an employee notifies their employer of a need for accommodation, the employer must engage in an “interactive process” to identify reasonable accommodations.
Not every condition can be accommodated, and not every accommodation is possible. If there is simply no possible way to accommodate an employee, and no prospect of recovery after medical leave, then the employer may have good cause to terminate. Also, if the employer does not have the resources to afford a costly accommodation, it may not be required to do so. Obviously, a national corporation has more resources than a small local shop. But there is no black-and-white rule about which accommodations are reasonable and which are not.
Also, some health conditions like a common cold, bruised arm, or garden-variety stress and depression might not rise to the level of a “disability” under the law. However, if your employer refuses to accommodate your condition, or terminates you instead, then you should contact an employment lawyer immediately.
For those experiencing a disability that interferes with their ability to work, the first place to start is by notifying an employer about the disability and requesting an accommodation. In most cases, an employer will respond by engaging in the interactive process. However, if an employer fails to address an employee’s issues, or terminates the employee, the employee may have a disability discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit.
Other Disability & Medical Leave FAQs:
- Am I entitled to leave for a serious family matter?
- Can My Employer Fire Me for Requesting Medical Leave under FMLA or CFRA?
- Do I qualify for a medical leave from work under FMLA or CFRA?
- I was recently injured and need to request an accommodation. Can my employer fire me if I make the request?
- In California, can my employer fire me because of my disability?
- What disabilities and conditions are protected?
- What disabilities are covered under California employment discrimination laws?
- What is a “reasonable accommodation” for disability under California employment law?