Working with a disability can be challenging. Add to that the discrimination that some disabled employees face, and the scenario gets even more difficult. That is why U.S. federal law protects employees with disabilities and prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace. Additionally, nearly every state across the nation grants some protection to disabled workers ensuring they are treated fairly and compensated adequately for the work they provide.

Specifically, disabled workers receive protection under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII serves as an umbrella of protections for certain groups of employees, preventing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, religion and disability. This federal law applies to all employers with companies of at least 15 employers.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) also protects disabled workers and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. These accommodations must fulfill certain legal requirements that courts have ruled are necessary in order to prevent discrimination and create a fair playing field for disabled workers.

Reasonable Accommodations According to the ADA and the EEOC

Title VII establishes a foundation for anti-discrimination law in the U.S. It’s amendments expand on that protection for specific groups. The ADA ensures that disabled workers receive fair treatment from employers in the form of certain accommodations that must be provided upon request by a disabled employee. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing both Title VII and the ADA to protect disabled workers.

These accommodations can cover a wide range depending on the type of disability involved. For instance, a worker with back pain might need to sit while working or a typist with carpal tunnel issues might need frequent breaks while working. Whatever the type of accommodation, certain rules apply which both employee and employer must abide by in order to fulfill the requirements of the law.

Types of Accommodations for Disabled Workers

According to the EEOC, any change in the work environment that helps a disabled worker do their job is required under the law. The requested accommodations must be granted unless they would cause a business or company undue hardship.

Workplace environment changes may mean that an employer is required to assist a disabled worker with applying for a job or make changes to the way a certain job is performed. It could also mean making changes to job benefits, vacations days, or other privileges of employment. For instance, an employer may provide a disabled wored with additional unpaid leave for treatment of a disability when available leave reaches its maximum limits.

Additionally, reasonable accommodations might also require providing equipment or adjusting equipment already in existence. In some instances it may mean providing certain materials such as braille for blind workers or written materials for deaf workers.

Another type of accommodation for disabled workers is job restructuring. This includes delegating tasks that a disabled worker cannot perform to other employees or changing how a job is performed in order to accommodate a worker’s disability. Sometimes, jobs can also be performed at home where a disabled worker has better ability to perform tasks. Worker’s may make such requests when a job’s essential functions can be performed away from the job.

In some instances, a disabled worker is not able to perform job assignment due to his or her disability. In these cases, reassignment is a reasonable accommodation that may be requested by an employee or offered by the employer. Employers should keep in mind however, that reassignment must follow certain rules and guidelines. For instance, the newly assigned position must be of equal pay and status as the former or be equivalent in pay and status.

Though it is not required that policy on accommodations be in writing, the EEOC suggests doing so in order to keep communications lines open between employer and employee. The agency also suggests using outside resources to pinpoint and provide the best accommodations available to workers who need them.

Legal Requirements for Disability Accommodation at Work

It is important to note not all requests for disability accommodations at work can be granted. According to federal law, if the requested accommodation would cause undue hardship to an employer, the employer is not obligated to provide it.

Courts and the EEOC have outlined several factors to determine whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship. According to the EEOC, the accommodation need not create more than a significant cost to the business, in terms of money or other intangible hardships such as business efficiency or company relations.

In other words, significantly costly or difficult accommodations are not required. The undue hardship analysis is usually based on the amount of resources an employer has as well as on the particular operations of the employer’s business. According to the EEOC, one-fifth of all accommodations cost nothing. Sometimes they can be provided by disabled workers themselves. The average cost of most disability accommodations is $240.

Also, according to the ADA, employers are not required to provide eyeglasses, wheelchairs or other devices that would assist disabled workers when they are not on the job. If an accommodation request requires an employer to eliminate essential job functions or alter performance standards in a significant way, this may constitute undue hardship and would not need to be permitted under law.

Additionally, the law does not require an employer to tolerate threats of violence or company misconduct which a disabled worker claims is part of his or her disability. Lastly, an employer is not obligated to provide a disability accommodation if a disabled worker does not ask for one or make it known that the disability exists. Therefore, it is essential that workers make their disability and accommodations requests known to an employer when an accommodation is necessary.

Disability Accommodation at Work: Know Your Rights

A wide range of accommodations is available under federal and most state law for workers with disabilities. It is important to openly request an accommodation to make your employer aware that the accommodations are necessary and to give your employer an opportunity to assess whether adequate resources are available to fulfill the request. An employer’s failure to grant reasonable requests could mean a violation of your rights under the law which can be remedied with the assistance of a qualified employment law attorney.