Does an Employee Have to Prove A Disability for an Employer to Accommodate It?

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer is supposed to make reasonable accommodations for an employee who asks for them, in order to deal with or work with a disability.

For example, if a person is required to take medication at specific times of the day, the employer must allow that person to take breaks in order to take their medication. If a person needs a wheelchair ramp into the building, the employer is required to build it.

Wheelchair Access SignHowever — and this is very important — the employer does not have to make those accommodations until the employee requests them. Even if the employer knows there is a need, he or she is not required to meet them, until the employee has made an official request.

Once the employee does so, that legally begins the interactive process. The employer is obligated to engage in the interactive process, find out the employee’s condition, determine whether or not it is a disability (based on ADA guidelines), then decide if they have to accommodate the employee.

Of course, if an employer offers to make an accommodation first, it can certainly be accepted. In fact, most places of employment already have certain features in place to accommodate disabilities, such as wheelchair ramps and elevators.

There are two rules when it comes to disability accommodation requests.

1. An employee is not entitled automatically to the accommodation they want.

An employer does not have to grant every single request. There may be times where the request is unreasonable, or goes against the reason the person was hired in the first place.

For example, Bob works first shift in the plant, but has requested to go on second shift, because he needs to go to dialysis in the mornings. However, the reason Bob was hired was because they needed the help with a task that is only done on first shift. Putting Bob on second shift would mean they need to hire another employee just to do Bob’s original job. In this case, they would not need to accommodate Bob’s request.

But, if the company had three shifts, and each shift did the exact same work, it would be possible to move Bob from first to second just by moving a different employee from second to first. That’s a reasonable accommodation in that case, and the employer has to make it.

2 The employer only has to make reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable accommodation is defined as the burden on the employer, the cost to the employer, and any other factor that would be an issue for both parties. So, if an employee with a wheelchair wants a special express elevator built on the outside of the building that only she could use, with a total cost would be $750,000, that’s not a reasonable accommodation because there’s already an elevator in the building. Plus, it’s $750,000.

But if an employee asked for a wheelchair ramp, and one could be built for a few hundred dollars, that’s considered reasonable, and the employer is obligated to do it.

If you have any other questions about reasonable accommodation and the Americans With Disabilities Act, or believe you are not being treated fairly by an employer, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.

Photo credit: WELS (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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