According to the National MS Society, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to make changes in the workplaceor in a job’s conditions to help make it possible for a person with a disability to perform “essential job functions.” But the law isn’t intended to put the company out of business. The changes, which are called accommodations or workplace accommodation, must be reasonable. An employer can refuse to make “reasonable accommodations” if they impose an “undue hardship” on the employer or pose a “direct threat” to health or safety at work. Similar to the test in healthcare law that insurance won’t pay for medical care unless it is ‘medically necessary,’ workplace accommodations are only required if the employee’s condition warrants the accommodations, and if they are reasonable.
“Reasonable workplace accommodation” makes it possible for people with disabilities to meet job requirements. Reasonable accommodations might include:
- Modifying work hours or changing the place where work is performed.
- Providing reserved parking for an employee with a mobility impairment.
- Allowing an employee to use earned or unpaid leave for necessary treatment.
- Changing job descriptions by removing marginal job functions.
- Buying or modifying equipment or devices.
- Allowing an employee to provide equipment or devices that the employer is not required to furnish.
Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials and policies.
Providing qualified readers or interpreters.
Altering physical facilities to make them accessible and usable.
The employer must ensure that employees with disabilities have access to company benefits of employment such as rest rooms, health programs, meeting rooms, lunchrooms, lounges and social events. e employer can be excused from providing physical access if that creates an undue hardship but must then provide access to the program or service in some other fashion.
2. Undue Hardship
The general guidelines for reasonable workplace accommodation must be followed by everyone unless they cause “undue hardship.” What is “reasonable” for one employer might not be for another. What a large corporation might be required to do to accommodate an employee’s needs can be an undue hardship for a smaller business.
An accommodation need not be made if it is impractical, if it costs more than an equally e ective alternative, if it requires renovation that will disrupt business, or if it causes unreasonable problems for other employees or customers. Undue hardship is decided on a case-by-case basis — by the employer. e determination can be challenged in court or before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal administrative enforcement agency for the employment title of the ADA.
3. Essential Job Functions
Like undue hardship, “essential job functions” are de ned by the employer on a job-by-job basis, but again, the determination can be challenged. e law says that essential job functions are tasks that are fundamental, not marginal — for reasons that include but aren’t limited to the following:
n The position exists to perform the function. For example, as the office receptionist, you must answer the telephone.
n The function is highly specialized. For example, as a laboratory researcher, you use your PhD in biology and your manual dexterity.
n The company has a limited number of employees among whom the function can be distributed. For example, as inventory clerk, you make deliveries a half day each week and no other staff person is available for this duty.
Whose job is it to ensure that accommodations are made? Contact us for more information.