What Employers Need to Know About Reasonable Accommodations

Matt Longman

The term “reasonable accommodation” is well known, but not always fully understood. Hiring and working with employees with disabilities can be challenging when it isn’t clear what’s expected of an employer. They may be wondering what is considered reasonable and what might be excessive hardship on their company. Here’s what employers should know about reasonable accommodation.

When is accommodation needed?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), reasonable accommodations are required for those who meet the ADA’s disability definition.

A disability is any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits at least one major life activity. It doesn’t include temporary impairments like the flu or a sprained wrist, but it can include people who were previously disabled. For example, someone in remission from cancer or recovering from alcoholism is protected by reasonable accommodation. People who are in a relationship with someone who has a disability might also be entitled to reasonable accommodation for caregiving responsibilities.

Concentra’s ADApt program works with employers to help them make reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This includes pre-employment testing to fit job processes with employees’ abilities, job site analyses to ensure employees have full access to the workplace, and ergonomic evaluations to help limit the risk of injuries.

Understanding who should be accommodated—and for what—can be confusing. Here’s what you should keep in mind when considering accommodation: reasonable accommodation isn’t about giving employees an unfair advantage. Instead, the goal of accommodation is to level the playing field between disabled employees or job candidates and their co-workers or fellow applicants. In other words, it’s intended to ensure that disabled individuals have the same opportunities as the average worker.

Inconvenient isn’t unreasonable.

There are many instances where an accommodation request might be considered an unreasonable hardship. For example, an accommodation may simply be too expensive for the company to reasonably afford, or maybe providing a requested accommodation would interfere with essential job functions or put other employees in danger.

That said, it’s important to understand that inconvenience doesn’t automatically make it an unreasonable hardship on the company. Hardship determination is based on the resources available to the entire company, not just an individual department. For example, Jim works for a large Fortune 500 company currently in a state of growth. Jim requires a special desk that costs $1200 to accommodate his wheelchair, but Jim’s department doesn’t have the budget to pay for special furniture. Jim’s company is still required to purchase the desk so that Jim can complete his essential job function.

Some common accommodations include:

  • modified schedules
  • extra breaks or leave
  • altering how or when duties are performed
  • changing office space
  • telecommuting
  • changing workplace policies
  • providing assistive technology
  • assigning staff to assist or interpret
  • accessible parking
  • alternative format of materials (i.e. Braille or large print)
  • a lateral move to a position the employee might also be qualified for

Best practices.

Employees who work hard to overcome a disadvantage can be a vital company asset, as they have strong drive and determination. Employers can bring out the best in their employees with a few simple tips.

Keep communication open. Chances are your employee knows exactly what they need to be successful. Ask them what they need—and listen to them when they tell you. It’ll save you both time, frustration, and money.

Be creative. Work with your employee to think outside of the box. You may be able to come up with a solution others may have never thought of.

Keep the main goal in mind. Remember that the point of reasonable accommodation is to ensure an even playing field for all of your employees, disabled or not. Not all requests need to be honored.

Manage each accommodation on a case by case basis. No two situations will be exactly alike, and every accommodation should fit the needs of the individual.

Encourage your employees to stay healthy. By preventing common workplace illnesses and injuries, your disabled employees will have much less to deal with on top of their disability. Learn more about Concentra’s ADApt programs and ways to keep employees safe.