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What is a reasonable accommodation in the workplace?

In today’s diverse work environments, understanding the concept of reasonable accommodations is crucial for employers and employees. Working to ensure that all individuals, including those with disabilities, have equal opportunities to contribute and succeed is a collective responsibility.

Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a work environment that make it easier for an employee with a disability to perform job tasks effectively. These changes aim to level the playing field and remove any barriers for employees with disabilities to promote a more inclusive workplace. Employers with 15 or more employees (at minimum, per federal law – some state laws are far stricter) are bound by laws pertaining to reasonable accommodations.

Understanding disability

For legal purposes, a disability is a physical or mental impairment significantly limiting one or more major life activities. This includes mobility, sensory impairments, mental health conditions and chronic illnesses. These may be present when the employee starts working or develop after the employee is hired.

Identifying appropriate accommodations

Determining suitable accommodation often involves a collaborative process between an employer and employee, including a review of job functions and tasks that might be challenging. Typical accommodations include specialized equipment, work schedule changes or physical work environment alterations. Employers are generally required to work with an employee to explore practical ways of providing accommodations. This involves open communication and may include evaluations with medical professionals or occupational specialists.

Financial feasibility and undue hardship

The law considers various factors like the cost of the accommodation, the financial resources of the employer and the impact on the business’s operations when determining reasonability. A compromise may not be deemed reasonable if it creates an undue hardship on the employer.

Employee rights and confidentiality

Employees have the right to request reasonable accommodations and are protected against discrimination and/or retaliation for making such a request. The details concerning an employee’s disability and accommodations provided are usually subject to strict confidentiality requirements.

Reasonable accommodations in the workplace are essential for promoting diversity and inclusion. They serve to remove barriers and allow individuals with disabilities to perform their job functions effectively. While the process may involve several steps, the end goal is creating a workplace where everyone can contribute and succeed ethically and lawfully.