Work Life & Safety February 3, 2021

What Your HR Department Should Know About Reasonable Accommodation

Amanda S., Senior Editor

If your organization is committed to creating a diverse, inclusive workforce, then the term “reasonable accommodation” isn’t an unfamiliar one. An effective reasonable accommodation may be necessary for a person with a disability to be able to perform their duties productively or apply for a job.

Requesting an Accommodation

The process typically begins when an employee with a disability notifies their supervisor or HR department that a reasonable accommodation is needed for them to perform their job. If the worker discloses a disability but doesn't state that it affects their duties, then that is not sufficient notice to begin the reasonable accommodation process. Unless the person with a disability specifically asks for a reasonable accommodation, one typically doesn’t need to be provided.

icon opened folder magnify glassReasonable accommodation requests are usually handled on a case-by-case basis. When an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must comply unless they can show it causes undue hardship on the business.

 

The following types of accommodations are usually considered reasonable:

  • Change in job functions
  • Equipment or software adjustments
  • Reserved parking
  • Flexible work schedule
  • Adapted workstation
  • Service animals

Providing an Accommodation

Once there is a formal request, the employer and employee can enter into an interactive dialogue to find the most effective solution that works for both parties. The employee can provide insight on what kind of accommodation they think will work best since they know the barriers they face with their disability. The employer, familiar with their organization's capabilities, practices and policies, can then provide an overview of the process. A reasonable accommodation request should be responded to as quickly as possible. The employer should also strive to implement the reasonable accommodation in a timely manner as unnecessary delays may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Confidentiality

All parties must agree to confidentiality in their discussions. Information concerning an employee's reasonable accommodation:

  • Should not be discussed with other employees.
  • Should not go in the employee's personnel file.
  • Will only be shared on a need-to-know basis.

It is possible that certain changes will affect coworkers. In these instances, coworkers will be notified of the change but not of the reason behind it.

Selecting an Accommodation

If there are multiple accommodations that would satisfy an employee’s request, the employer will choose the one they think is the most suitable. As long as the accommodation is effective, the employer can pursue one that is less costly or easier to implement. Employers might think that providing a reasonable accommodation will be costly and complicated, but several studies show that the cost is much lower than expected and can be accomplished with little extra effort.

Icon clip board check markAccording to a 2020 Job Accommodation Network (JAN) survey, out of 1,029 employers, roughly half said that accommodations they made for employees with disabilities cost them absolutely nothing.

Implementing an Accommodation

When a suitable accommodation has been agreed upon, the next step is to put it into practice and follow through on any training your employee might need. As time goes on, maintain an open dialogue on how things are going and make adjustments to the accommodation as needed. Both the employer and employee should keep documentation on the reasonable accommodation process so they can review it as needed.

For more information on various Work Life & Safety topics, browse the QuickSeries® library of guides, including Equal Employment Opportunity and Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Workplace.  

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