How to Handle Disability Accommodation Requests

Feeling welcome at work is critical for all employees to be engaged, productive, and capable of doing their jobs well. However, this can sometimes be a challenge for people with disabilities who need accommodations to carry out their daily work tasks.

Fortunately, United States law has made provisions for employees to request and receive the modifications they need from an employer to have equal opportunity to get and perform a job. These provisions are outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act, more commonly known as the ADA.

What the ADA Requires From Employers

The ADA was enacted to prevent employers from discriminating against qualified people with disabilities in any aspect of employment, including applications, hiring, compensation, and everyday job performance. 

For the purposes of the ADA, a person with a disability is someone who “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This definition includes those who have a record or history of such an impairment or are regarded by others as having one.

Title I of the ADA requires employers with 15 employees or more to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace for people with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation can be a modification or adjustment to hiring processes, the work environment, or the job description that enables a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to be hired and perform a job. 

The Complex Nature of Reasonable Accommodations

The ADA provides employers with guidance on how to understand and handle reasonable accommodation requests. For instance, it offers employers some examples of such accommodations, including:

  • Physical Changes: Ramps, modification of restroom and office layouts
  • Assistive Technologies: Screen reader software, videophones
  • Communication Modifications: Closed captioning, Braille, large print
  • Policy Modifications: Service animals, schedule adjustments
  • Position Changes: Job restructuring, reassignment

Despite this guidance, the requirements to provide these accommodations are not always straightforward. 

For example, an employer does not have to provide an accommodation if they can show that it would create an “undue hardship” for them logistically or financially. Employers are also not required to provide personal use items (such as hearing aids) or lower their quality standards to accommodate an individual.

Employers are also generally not required to provide the accommodation unless the individual with a disability requests it. However, it’s generally in the best interest of employers to proactively assess and provide accommodations when they know or have reason to know that an employee has a disability, even if the employee has not specifically requested one, asthere is little guidance on what constitutes a request. 

Employers often need guidance on how to recognize when a request is being made, how to determine whether that request is reasonable, how to respect the law when asking disability-related questions of employees, and how to respond when a reasonable request is made.

How to Recognize and Respond to Employee Accommodation Requests

Handling employee accommodation requests can be daunting. Consider the steps in this short guide as you learn how to respond to the needs of employees with disabilities.

Determine ADA Requirements

Not all employers are covered under the ADA. Ensure that you have read the law and consulted with a professional to determine whether it applies to your business.

Create Formal Policies

Your employees should fully understand their rights under the law and what your process is for handling requests. Make sure these policies are written, acknowledged, and readily available for employees to access them.

Learn to Recognize Accommodation Requests

An employee’s request does not have to be in writing or made through a formal process to be valid. It can be alluded to in a normal conversation or in a note from a medical provider. 

There may not be any clear signs, so HR professionals should be trained on how to recognize when an employee is making a request. Note that employers may ask an employee to clarify what is being requested, but it’s crucial to ensure that you are following the law regarding asking disability-related questions of an employee.

Engage in the Interactive Process

The interactive process involves gathering all the information you need to determine whether an accommodation is necessary and provide the best possible accommodation for the employee. 

Have the employee provide appropriate documentation of the impairment from a healthcare provider, discuss possible limitations in meeting job requirements, and do your best to come to an agreement about a reasonable accommodation. It helps to request the employee ask the medical provider for recommendations on what a reasonable accommodation might be.

Ensure that you are properly complying with HIPAA on all medical documentation and are storing any medical records in a separate folder for the employee’s personnel file.

Provide the Accommodation and Notify the Employee

Once an accommodation is agreed upon, provide it and notify the employee when you have done so. Make sure you provide details of the start date for the accommodation and, if necessary, its duration.

Make the Interactive Process Ongoing

Realize that the interactive process doesn’t end unless and until the employee no longer needs the accommodation. Keep the lines of communication open with employees in case the nature of their disability — and therefore the need for accommodation — changes.

Respecting Your Employees’ Rights Is Crucial

As an employer, you must respect the rights and needs of those in your workforce. Understanding how to properly handle disability accommodation requests ensures compliance with the law as you seek out ways to make everyone at your company feel safe and welcome.

VirgilHR’s chatbot can handle reasonable accommodation requests and walks users through the interactive process, including all required paperwork. Want to learn more? See how our chatbot can help you here.