Introduction- What is Title I of the Americans with Disability Act?
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship.
Who is Covererd Under the ADA?
To be protected from discrimination under the ADA, an individual must meet all job requirements and be able to perform essential functions. The ADA does not force employers to hire someone who is unqualified. The ADA applies to all employers who have 15 or more employees and covers employees who are full time, part time or on a probationary period. The Equal Enforcement Opportunity Commission has issued enforcement guidance, and this article seeks to provide a roadmap based on that guidance for employers when a current employee requests an accommodation.
What Qualifies as an Accommodation?
The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is a legal requirement; accommodation is a change in the work environment, or the way things are customarily done that would allow an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Reasonable accommodations can be modifications or adjustments to the work environment or the way a job is performed that allows an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position or that enables an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by other employees in similar situations.
An employer does not have to eliminate an essential function of the position or lower job standards. Generally, unless the disability is obvious, the employee must tell the employer about the disability and request an accommodation, although those specific terms do not need to be used by the employee. This request triggers an interactive process where the employer and employee engage in discussions to clarify what the individual’s needs are and identify the appropriate accommodation. This should be done as quickly as possible, as any unnecessary delay by the employer can be seen as an ADA violation. The employer may ask the employee questions that enable it to make an informed decision about the request, including what a reasonable accommodation would look like to the employee. It is important for the employer to engage with the employee without unnecessary delay in this process and not automatically assume that the accommodation will cause it undue hardship.
What Documents can an Employer Request?
The employer may also request reasonable documentation related only to the ADA disability from an appropriate healthcare or rehabilitation professional when the disability is not obvious. Additionally, employers should not disclose to other employees that an individual employee is receiving a reasonable accommodation.
The employer may choose among different reasonable accommodations, including a less expensive one, as long as the accommodation is effective, meaning it would remove a workplace barrier to perform the essential functions of a position or to gain equal access to a benefit or privilege of employment. As part of the interactive process, the employer may offer alternative suggestions for reasonable accommodations and discuss their effectiveness in removing a workplace barrier. Further, the duty to provide a reasonable accommodation is ongoing as some employees may need a future accommodation as well. Therefore, employers will need to engage in the interactive process for each request.
Undue Hardship on the Employer
No modification is required if it would cause undue hardship to the employer. Undue hardship means an accommodation that causes significant difficulty or expense for the employer. This is a case-by-case analysis. It should take into consideration the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation, whether it would be too disruptive or whether it would fundamentally alter the nature or operations of the business.