Fast Legal Answers: Reasonable Accommodations

For the first, in what is likely to be a continuing series titled Fast Legal Answers, I am going to give a quick and simple overview of a specific legal issue or topic. These article will be short, under 500 words, and will be as direct as possible.

Today I am going to talk about reasonable accommodations.

If you want more depth, I suggest you check out our legal guides section. Some of the articles there are huge and provide all the detail you could ever want.

This article will focus on reasonable accommodations in the federal sector. But the principles have general application.

Reasonable Accommodations

 

What are they?

A reasonable accommodation (RA) is a change to a job, work environment, or the way work is performed, that allows an individual with a disability to apply for or perform a job.

What is the basic rule?

An agency is required to make reasonable accommodation to the known physical and mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability unless the agency can show that accommodation would cause an undue hardship. 29 C.F.R. 1630.9. The Commission also notes that an employee must show a nexus between the disabling condition and the requested accommodation. See Wiggins v. United States Postal Service, EEOC Appeal No. 01953715 (April 22, 1997).

Ok, explain that in non-legal speak please?

An employer must provide a RA if:

  1. The employee has a disability.
  2. The employee can perform the job normally with an accommodation (otherwise qualified individual).
  3. And that providing an accommodation wouldn’t be HUGE burden on the agency.

Does my employer have to give the accommodation that I ask for?

Nope. The agency just has to give you a reasonable accommodation that “enable[s] [you] to enjoy the same benefits and privileges of the job as enjoyed by non-disabled individuals.” Chausse v. National Security Agency, EEOC Appeal No. 01A32552 (June 25, 2003).

So, for example, if you are blind and need help using your computer, you may request an employee read the screen for you and help you use the mouse and keyboard. Instead, the agency provides you with accessibility software that gives verbal cues and allows you to interact with, and utilize, the computer. In this instance, the accommodation isn’t what you asked for, but it is still likely a reasonable one.

What if my employer refused to accommodate me?

You might have a discrimination case based on your disability, assuming you meet the criteria above, and any potential accommodation wouldn’t put an undue hardship on the agency.

You should be aware of the short 45-day timeline to file a claim with your EEOC counselor. Don’t wait to bring a failure to accommodate to the attention of your EEO office, otherwise you may lose your right to file.

If you think you might have a case, you should consult with an attorney. Reasonable accommodation cases are very fact specific so there is no simple formulaic way to know if you have been the victim of discrimination based on a failure to accommodate.

What constitutes undue hardship?

This too, is a fact-specific inquiry. It really turns on the specifics of your case. Large agencies with huge budgets may have less leeway than a smaller agency squeaking bye. The EEOC suggests the following factors are a good place to start in determining whether there is undue hardship:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
  • the overall financial resources of the facility making the reasonable accommodation; the number of persons employed at this facility; the effect on expenses and resources of the facility;
  • the overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer (if the facility involved in the reasonable accommodation is part of a larger entity);
  • the type of operation of the employer, including the structure and functions of the workforce, the geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility involved in making the accommodation to the employer;
  • the impact of the accommodation on the operation of the facility

EEOC Enforcement Guidance, (citing 42 U.S.C. § 12111(10)(B) (1994); 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(p)(2) (1997); 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.2(p) (1997)).

Conclusion

I hope this article helped you understand how reasonable accommodations are analyzed. I’m nearly 200 words over my limit. I guess I’ll have to work on keeping it shorter for my next article in the Fast Legal Answers series.

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