Every disabled worker has the right to request accommodation for a job or position. Yet, some employers may choose to ignore these requests or deny them all together. Workers should know that in some case an employer’s refusal to abide by a reasonable request for accommodation in the workplace can be illegal.

Legal Requests for Accommodation

Both the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act give employees legal permission to request reasonable accommodation from their employer. An accommodation is a change to the work environment that helps disabled workers to perform job tasks and assignments in light of their disability. For example, an employee may request a change in the work schedule. It’s important to keep in mind however, that certain legal parameters apply.

In order to make a legal request for accommodation, an employee must contact a supervisor or manager of the company to let the employer know that an accommodation is needed in relation to a medical condition. The condition of course should qualify as a disability under the definitions of the law. This request can be made at any time and need not be in writing. In fact according to the EEOC, the entire process is meant to be informal and as interactive as possible between employee and employer.

In some instances, a disabled worker may not be able to make a request on their own. In these situations, it is reasonable for a family member or caretaker to request the accommodation on the worker’s behalf. In fact, even health professionals or doctors can request an accommodation on the worker’s behalf.

No Obligation for Unreasonable, Undue Requests

Not all requests for accommodation qualify for legal protection. The employer is obligated to refuse unreasonable requests for accommodation, and it is not required to provide accommodations when unaware they are needed. In other words, an employee must be sure to verbalize a request for accommodations.

According to the EEOC, a request is reasonable if its seems “unduly costly, extensive, substantial or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business”. This means a request for expensive medical equipment or personal items, such as glasses or specialized hearing aids, may fall outside of the legal limitations for accommodation requests.

An employer is not obligated to fulfill unreasonable requests and is not obligated to fulfil requests that pose an undue hardship to business. According to the EEOC, undue hardship means any request that would place the business in a bind financially or otherwise. Under the ADA, an undue hardship is equivalent to accommodations that bring “significant difficulty or expense”.

Although the statute does not list specifically which accommodations qualify, there are a few factors that employers could consider when making this determination:

  • Impact on financial resources and expenses in light of the size of the company
  • Impact on business obligations and company relations
  • General nature and expenses associated with the accommodation.

Monitoring the Employer’s Response to a Request for Accommodation

Legally, an employer must acknowledge every initial reasonable request for accommodation. The EEOC advises that the employer and employee engage in a mutually interactive process to clarify the exact changes that must be made in the work environment in order to meet the request.

Additionally, the employer is not allowed to use the undue hardship feature of disability discrimination laws to avoid providing reasonable accommodations.  In other words, the employer is not allowed to deny requests simply because they would be too costly. In fact,the EEOC point outs that the ADA’s legislative history suggests employers should even consider outside sources of funding before denying a costly request.

Steps to Take When An Employer Ignores Your Request

Needless to say, employers may illegally ignore or completely deny a perfectly valid request. This often leaves employees in a state of limbo. It’s important to be aware of your rights and options under such circumstances.

  1. Contact your HR Department. Often a short meeting with the HR department is all that is needed to get an employer’s attention when requests are ignored. Be sure to document the encounter as well as any adverse responses.
  1. Contact Your Attorney. When employers refuse to comply with disability discrimination laws on accommodations, it may be time to contact a lawyer. First, a lawyer can provide timely and experienced counsel on the specific rights you have as a disabled employee as well as give guidance in your particular situation. Secondly, the lawyer may be able to lend credibility and authority to your accommodation request.
  1. Contact the EEOC. Often disputes about accommodation requests can be resolved informally through meetings with the employer or through a mediation process. When it’s time to file a formal charge of discrimination, however, the first step is to contact the EEOC. The EEOC can represent employees in court or help employees bring their own cases to court with the assistance of a private attorney.
  1. File A Charge. Filing a formal charge of disability discrimination involves compliance with statutory regulations concerning timeliness as well as an employer investigation. It’s important to proceed with a sound understanding of the charge filing process. Often this means hiring a skilled employment discrimination attorney.
  1. File a Lawsuit.

After the charge filing process concludes at the state or federal EEOC office, the next step is to take the matter to court. Absent settlement efforts, the litigation process may be the only way to fairly resolve disputes involving accommodation requests. Be sure to locate a qualified disability discrimination attorney for the best results and outcomes.