Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA

Beth Dean 05.14.24
Graphic - Blog 2024-05-21 Balancing Addiction and ADA Rights

What is Considered “Reasonable”?

What happens when an employee with a disability needs an adjustment to perform their job effectively? This is where reasonable accommodations come in. However, the question often arises: what exactly is considered “reasonable” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Striking a Balance

The key is to find a balance between meeting the needs of the employee and avoiding undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a job or the work environment that enable a person with a disability to perform the essential functions of their role.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

Here are some everyday examples of reasonable accommodations:

  • Assistive technology: Providing screen readers for visually impaired employees or amplified headsets for those with hearing impairments.
  • Flexible work arrangements: Modifying schedules or work-from-home options for employees with mobility limitations or chronic health conditions.
  • Ergonomic equipment: Supplying ergonomic keyboards or specialized chairs to improve comfort and reduce strain for employees with musculoskeletal disorders.
What Isn’t A Reasonable Accommodation

Generally, accommodations that fundamentally alter the job or create undue financial hardship for the employer are not considered reasonable. For instance, if an accountant requires a personal assistant to complete basic data entry tasks, this might be an unreasonable accommodation, as it goes beyond what’s necessary for the core accounting functions and would be a significant added cost for the company.

The Interactive Process

So, what should you do when an employee comes to you with an accommodation request? The ADA emphasizes an interactive process. When an employee requests an accommodation, employers should communicate openly to explore various options. Here’s a breakdown of the interactive process:

  1. Welcome the Request: Rather than putting the employee on the defensive, express appreciation for their openness.
  2. Focus on the Solution: The goal is to find a solution allowing employees to perform their jobs effectively. 
  3. Engage in a Dialogue: This is a collaborative conversation, not an interrogation. Ask clarifying questions to understand the employee’s needs and explore potential solutions.
  4. Consider Options: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Explore various accommodation options.
  5. Focus on Effectiveness: The primary concern is finding a reasonable accommodation that allows the employee to perform the essential functions of their job; not the most convenient option for the employer.
  6. Document the Outcome: Once you agree on a suitable accommodation, document it clearly and formally. 
  7. Open Communication: Encourage ongoing communication with the employee and be open to adjustments if needed.
  8. Respect Privacy: Keep the employee’s disability information confidential, only sharing it with those who need to know to facilitate the accommodation.

An additional note on privacy: a number of laws protect the confidentiality of personal health information. Guard this information very carefully. Most people with a “need to know” in actuality only need to know the job duties affected and the resulting accommodation made, not a specific diagnosis. 

Resources

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers a wealth of resources and creative solutions to support this process.

Also, please contact your HR Business Partner at Nextep for one-on-one guidance if you receive a request at your company. Our experts are ready to help!

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