Disability Rights of West Virginia
Reasonable Workplace Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities
Article by Shawna White, DRWV Staff Attorney
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many employers and employees to adapt to doing their job in new ways and new places. Much like employers and employees who have successfully used innovative methods to perform their duties during the pandemic, individuals with disabilities can be successful in employment when accommodations are provided in the workplace. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process, perform essential job functions, and/or benefit from the rights and privileges of employment in ways that are equal to those of employees without disabilities.
Most employers and individuals with a disability are aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to their employees with disabilities. However, 31 years after the passage of the ADA, there remains a lot of misconceptions about reasonable accommodations in the workplace. While the law regarding reasonable accommodations in the workplace is quite complex and cannot be fully covered in this article, the following tips and resources can help navigate the process.
For employees: Always ask for an accommodation as soon as you realize you may need it to perform an essential job function.
For employers: If you suspect an employee may need an accommodation, address the issue right away. An employer is required to provide an accommodation for a known disability, even if one has not been requested.
Put all requests for accommodations in writing. The ADA does not require requests for accommodations to be in writing but having documentation benefits both the employer and the employee. The document should clearly state what accommodation is needed, when it was submitted and who it was submitted to.
If an employer has a particular policy or procedure to request an accommodation, it is best to comply, but the ADA does not require it. An employer must provide an accommodation when it is aware of the need for one, regardless of whether a request was submitted or a procedure followed.
Be prepared to provide medical documentation when requesting an accommodation. The ADA does not require an employer to obtain medical documentation, but it provides that an employer can choose to request documentation showing the extent of the employee’s ability to do his or her job, and why reasonable accommodations are needed.
An employer is required to provide a suitable accommodation but may not be required to provide the exact accommodation you are requesting. The employer and employee are required to enter into what is called the “interactive process.” This is where all parties make a good faith effort to meet and determine the most appropriate accommodation to allow an individual to perform an essential job function.
If you think you may need an accommodation but are not sure what accommodations are available or appropriate, there are resources to help. A first step may be to speak with your medical providers, but if you still need help, there are many resources available.
If needed, ask for an accommodation during the application process. An employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to allow a qualified job applicant to participate in the application process. This includes accommodations during a pre-employment test. (For further information, see https://askjan.org/topics/test.cfm).
The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues.
The West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) helps people with disabilities establish and reach their vocational goals.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) promotes policies and provides technical support to employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities.
If you want to learn more about the ADA and workplace accommodations, visit:
JAN: The Job Accommodation Network: https://askjan.org/
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: https://www.eeoc.gov/
West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services: https://wvdrs.org/
ADA National Network: https://adata.org/factsheet/reasonable-accommodations-workplace
Disability Rights of West Virginia is available to provide information and referral, advocacy and legal services to individual with disabilities. If you have questions regarding any issue related to employment and disability, you have been denied an accommodation or feel you have been subjected to employment discrimination, DRWV is here to help.