Reasonable Accommodations

Personal assistance services in the workplace and reasonable accommodation protections from an employer are connected. It is very important to understand the rules and protections for both topic areas.

Since the 1970s, U.S. and California law has come to support equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for all Americans with disabilities. Development of key protections and services mark the enormous progress of this history.

This background includes:

  • Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act (1973)
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990)
  • Workforce Investment Act (WIA, 1998)
  • California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
  • California Assembly Bill 2222 (AB 2222, 2000); and Workforce Inclusion Act (AB 925, 2002)

These laws were strengthened with the recent Supreme Court decision in Olmstead vs. L.C. (1999) which requires that appropriate community-based services be provided in the most integrated setting possible. For many, this includes the workplace.

Two milestones in this history are reasonable accommodations, a defined protection, and personal assistance services, which can be publicly funded, provided by an employer or paid for out of pocket. Since 2003, these advances have become interconnected in California. In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program participants are now able to use some of their authorized IHSS personal assistance service hours in the workplace.

Understanding Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace

A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment or modification to a job or workplace that enables an employee to perform the essential duties of the job successfully. The reasonable accommodation is related to, but does not change, the essential functions of the job. The employee must be capable of performing the essential duties of the job with or without the reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable Accommodation Examples

  • An employee who is blind can request a computer screen reader to successfully perform the essential functions of the job.
  • An employee with a mental health condition can request a flexible work schedule or can request to schedule time away from work for medical reasons.

Sharing Information about a Disability

The only time it is required to disclose the existence of a disabling condition in the workplace is when requesting a reasonable accommodation. The request can come from the employee or the employee’s medical provider.

Reasonable accommodation rules are considered on a case-by-case basis. Each employer and employee can negotiate terms that work for both under the law. When presented with a request for reasonable accommodtion, employers can only request the documentation that is needed to establish the existence of a disability and the need for reasonable accommodation. This means that in most situations employers cannot request your entire medical record.

Reasonable accommodation protections from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) cover employers with 15 or more employees. Reasonable accommodation protections from California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) cover employers with five or more employees.

Personal Assistance Services (PAS)

In general, personal assistance services can allow an individual with a disability to live and work in the most integrated setting. Personal assistance services include attendant services, assistance with transportation to and from work, reader services, business travel assistance, or job coaches. See DB101’s In-Home Supportive Services section, which covers specified attendant services.