Know Your Options—and Protect Your Rights

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to assist workers with disabilities in performing their job duties. But what do you do if your employer turns down your request?

Here’s a look at how this process is supposed to work—and what you can do if your request is denied.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

Under the ADA, a “reasonable accommodation” is a change to the job or environment to accommodate an employee with disabilities. Some very general categories of accommodations an employer might make include:

  • Changing the work environment—such as adding a ramp or elevator, or making a cubicle larger to accommodate a wheelchair.
  • Redistributing job duties so able-bodied coworkers take on some aspects of a disabled worker’s job, while the disabled worker takes on more of the work they can do.
  • Making communications more accessible, such as providing training materials in Braille, including closed-captioning in meeting presentations, or hiring sign language interpreters at company events.
  • Changing policies to accommodate a disabled employee, such as allowing the employee to bring a service dog to work.
  • Modifying work schedules to accommodate a disabled employee.

These are all very general categories, and are not meant to be comprehensive—the reasonable accommodations you and your employer can agree on are limited only by the employer’s resources and your needs.

How to Request an Accommodation

That said, to get an accommodation, you have to ask for one. This requires disclosing your disability to your employer.

You aren’t required to make this request in writing, or to use special language—such as references to the ADA or “reasonable accommodations.” All you have to do is tell your employer that you need some kind of change in your work environment because of your medical condition.

What’s Required of Your Employer

Once you make your request, your employer may fulfill it outright—or they may decide to work with you to determine an alternative option that works for both you and them.

The employer isn’t required to fulfill your initial accommodation outright as long as they are cooperating with you to find a mutually workable solution. 

The process is interactive, and both the employer and employee are required to engage in this interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation exists to assist the employee with performance of job duties. 

Your employer may also ask you to submit medical documentation of your disability.

What Is and Isn’t “Reasonable”

Under some circumstances, employers are legally allowed to deny a request for reasonable accommodation.

Specifically, your employer may turn down your request if it qualifies as an “undue hardship.” This may be because the change is too expensive or difficult to implement—or it might change the nature of the business in a fundamental way.

What may be considered an “undue hardship” for one employer may not be for another.  It depends on the size and financial resources of the employer, how it operates, and how the accommodation affects those things. 

What to Do if Your Request Has Been Ignored or Denied

Let’s say you’ve made your request, and your employer hasn’t responded.

Try submitting your request in writing—to your boss and your HR department. Use very clear language—state expressly that you’re requesting a reasonable accommodation, as is your right under the ADA.

The law doesn’t require you to do this, but it’s possible your company doesn’t understand your request. It’s also a good strategy to start laying down a paper trail, should you need it later.

If you’ve tried this and received  no response—or you’ve been outright denied—you may need the help of a lawyer.

Schedule a Consultation with an Employment Lawyer in Philadelphia

An experienced employment lawyer can be invaluable in making sure your rights are honored.

If you believe your rights under the ADA have been violated, we can help. Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com for a free, confidential consultation today.

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.