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May 17, 2023 Employment Law

What Are “Reasonable Accommodations” for Persons With Disabilities?

Individuals with disabilities have made great strides in all parts of life in the United States over the previous decades, including in employment. A greater awareness of the needs and potential contributions of persons with disabilities has led to a tremendous increase in the number of positions open to such persons. While technological advancement has certainly played a role here, the law has played a major role as well, with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) having banned discrimination against persons with disabilities since 1990. However, disability discrimination in employment still exists, and if you have been a victim of it, you should consider contacting a Norfolk employment lawyer to discuss your case. 

Discrimination Against Persons With Disabilities Is Illegal Under Both Federal and Virginia Law

Virginians are protected from disability discrimination in employment by both the ADA and the Virginia Human Rights Act (VHRA). 

The ADA applies to private employers (with 15 or more employees), state and local government employers (with 15 or more employees), employment agencies, labor organizations, and labor-management committees. An employee is considered disabled under the ADA if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. It also protects individuals who have a history of such conditions and those who are regarded as having such conditions. The ADA prohibits discriminatory practices in recruitment, hiring, firing, training, job assignments, promotions, pay, benefits, lay-offs, and leave

The VHRA’s nondiscrimination provisions are similar to the ADAs, barring employers from depriving any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affecting an individual’s status as an employee.

What Is a “Reasonable Accommodation?” 

The ADA not only bans discrimination against persons with disabilities; it also requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees who otherwise are qualified to perform the essential functions of the job unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The issue for many victims of workplace discrimination due to disability is proving that their request for accommodation was reasonable and would not create an undue hardship for their employer. While these elements can be difficult to prove in litigation, a Norfolk employment lawyer can help you do so.  

Categories of Reasonable Accommodations 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces parts of the ADA, has identified three categories of reasonable accommodations: 

  1. Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
  2. Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
  3. Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities 

The first category concerns reasonable accommodations during the recruitment and hiring process. This could involve, for example, hiring an interpreter to conduct an interview with a deaf applicant. The second category concerns reasonable accommodations related to job performance and the working environment. A reasonable accommodation in this context could be allowing a disabled employee to take additional unpaid leave for medical treatments. The third category relates to the benefits and privileges of employment, such as participation in training programs, employer services, and social functions. 

Types of Reasonable Accommodations 

Reasonable accommodation is a broad category that can encompass virtually every accommodation (within reason) that would enable an otherwise qualified applicant to perform their work duties. This could include: 

  • Adding accessibility features to existing facilities 
  • Job restructuring (i.e., reassigning non-essential functions the employee is unable to perform to other employees) 
  • Allowing the employee to work on a part-time schedule or other modified basis
  • Acquiring specialized equipment or modifying existing equipment 
  • Changing tests, training materials, and other employment practices (particularly “one-size-fits-all” policies that would have a disparate impact on disabled employees) 
  • Providing readers or interpreters
  • Reassigning the employee to a vacant position for which they are qualified

If you believe that you are entitled to one of these accommodations or any other and have been denied it unlawfully, please consider contacting a Norfolk employment lawyer to discuss your situation. 

What Is an “Undue Hardship?”

As with almost all employment laws, there are exceptions to the scope of the ADA. Under the ADA, employers are not required to provide an accommodation, even a reasonable one, if doing so would create an undue hardship. Like “reasonable accommodation,” “undue hardship” is a fuzzy concept but generally requires that the accommodation sought would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. When determining whether a reasonable accommodation would create an undue hardship, the EEOC considers the following factors: 

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation;
  • The overall financial resources of the employer, including the effect on the expenses and resources of the employer’s facility;
  • The overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer;
  • The nature of the employer’s business, including the structure and function of the workforce, 
  • The impact of the accommodation on the operations of the employer.

Employers may not claim undue hardship for the following reasons: 

  • Employees’ or customers’ fears or prejudices toward the employee’s disability 
  • Fear that a reasonable accommodation would have a negative effect on the morale of other employees

In most cases, if an employer determines that one reasonable accommodation would cause an undue hardship, it is required to attempt to identify an alternative accommodation that would not pose a hardship. 

Fight Back Against Disability Discrimination With Help From a Norfolk Employment Lawyer

Disability discrimination in the workplace has been illegal for decades, but it is still unfortunately common. The best way to fight back against such discrimination is to hold those who engage in it accountable through the legal process. For more information about pursuing disability discrimination claims, please contact a Norfolk employment lawyer at Pierce / Jewett by calling 757-304-6655 or using our online contact form.