Several bodies of both state and federal employment discrimination law address reasonable accommodation in associating with certain types of discrimination. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In Title VII, requests for reasonable accommodation may come in to play in several different areas. One area, pregnancy discrimination, which is covered in a Title VII amendment called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, involves an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation for her pregnancy. Another area involves requests for reasonable accommodation in association with the practice of religion while at work.
Disability discrimination is the area perhaps most commonly associated with requests for reasonable accommodation. In each of these areas of employment, both the requests and the employer’s response must follow specific guidelines in order to avoid costly litigation.
How Requests for Reasonable Accommodation Work
Generally, when an employee requests an accommodation, by law, the employer must respond by assisting the employee either with whatever is specified in the request or with a similar type of accommodation that both the employer and the employee work together to decide. An employer can legally deny the requested accommodation under certain circumstances.
If the request involves doing something to accommodate the employee that would jeopardize the business or its dealings, the employee may not be able to get the request granted. This is called the undue hardship provision of the reasonable accommodation scenario. The EEOC has provided guidelines for employers to help with identifying what qualifies as an undue hardship and what does not in the context of disability discrimination.
In terms of pregnancy discrimination, an employer may have to provide reasonable accommodations for disabilities related to a pregnancy according to the ADA. In addition, a number of states and localities have laws in place which require employers to provide reasonable accommodation for pregnancies regardless of a related disability.
For instance, in California, reasonable accommodation protection for pregnant workers extends to any condition related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition. It must be noted that the law emphasizes that advice from a physician is necessary to justify each request for accommodation.
In terms of religious discrimination, reasonable accommodations must be granted when requested unless they would impose more than a minimal burden on the employer. The EEOC refers to these accommodations as “reasonable adjustments to the work environment.” These accommodations can help employees practice their religion at work without interference from management or co-workers.
The religion-based reasonable accommodation provisions have been particularly relevant when it comes to dress and grooming in the workplace. According to the law, the type of accommodation that must be granted extends to cover special types of religious dress or clothing as well as certain hairstyles or grooming practices.
Basically, for religious practices that require beards, headdresses or special types of clothing to be worn, an employer must comply, absent undue hardship to the business of the company, when an employee requests accommodations.
When an Employer Denies or Ignores a Request
Whether it’s due to pregnancy, religion or a disability, a denial of a request for reasonable accommodation at work can be frustrating. Even more so, an employer who ignores your request can make the entire process rather infuriating. Fortunately, the law can help with such scenarios. The following are a few tips to help when things get tricky with requests for accommodation.
Put your request in writing.
Not only is putting your request in writing a good practice for reasonable accommodation requests, it’s a good habit in general. A good paper trail helps to keep your side of the story on record and can build your confidence when facts are challenged. Address your request to both your immediate supervisor and your human resources department to ensure that your request is well-documented and well-disclosed.
Hire a good employment discrimination attorney.
It may take the skill and reputation of a good employment discrimination attorney to get your employer’s attention. Employment discrimination attorneys have an understanding of laws like Title VII and the ADA that can’t be duplicated. When things get complicated at work you’ll need the well-informed input of a competent attorney capable to taking a strong stance for your rights as an employee.
File a charge with a state or federal EEOC office.
When an employer refuses to cooperate, filing a charge with the EEOC for violations of federal or state employment discrimination laws may be the next step. With a solid attorney at your side, the charge filing process will be less confusing and time consuming.
The process begins with an intake and investigation of your charge. This initial investigation will determine whether your case is worthy of EEOC representation. If the agency decides to forgo assisting with your case, the process doesn’t end there. They’ll issue a notice allowing you to move forward with your case in a court of law.
Keeping Your Request for Accommodation Reasonable
It must be stressed that the law does not require that all requests for accommodation be granted. In each instance where requests are permitted – for religious reasons, for disabilities and for pregnancies, the request must be reasonable. In the context of the law, this means that the it cannot be a request that causes the businesses to disrupt its operations or suspend it profits.
Taking these boundaries into consideration, an employee should definitely get the assistance of an employment discrimination attorney well versed in employment rights laws such as the ADA, the PDA and Title VII to assist with an employer’s refusal to provide reasonable accommodation. The goal ultimately is to ensure that both you and your employer can abide by the state and federal laws in place to protect the rights of workers to equal employment.