Sarah is concerned. She has been at her company for two years and knows she is a valued employee. But lately her physical condition is making it more difficult to do her job. She’s worried that these problems may start affecting her job performance. She decides to go see Manny, her Benefits Planner since 2004, to discuss the work situation.

“First of all,” Manny says, “you’re fortunate that you work for a large company. While these things are sometimes negotiated on a case by case basis, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers with more than fifteen employees generally must offer some reasonable accommodation to their employees in these kinds of situations.”

“What’s a reasonable accommodation?” asks Sarah.

“A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment or modification that enables you to perform the essential duties of your job successfully. So, in your case, you’re having difficulties archiving all those files because of your current physical condition. Reasonable accommodations might include your employer getting someone to assist you with your filing, or giving you time to go see a doctor, or whatever else you think you need to do the job.”

“What if I ever switched to a smaller company?” asks Sarah.

“So long as they have at least five employees, you’d be covered,” says Manny. “California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) offers reasonable accommodation protections to employees of companies with as few as five employees.”

“That is very good news,” says Sarah. “You know another problem I’m having is preparing my lunch everyday. I tend to eat at work. I’m busy in the middle of the day and getting out for lunch can be a real hassle. So I like to eat at my desk. But I tell you, making my lunch everyday is tough, given my physical condition.”

“Bingo!” say Manny. “That sounds like something In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) might be able to assist you with. You use In-Home Supportive Services at home, don’t you?”

“Sure I do. I have been for years,” says Sarah. “But IHSS offers in-home support, Manny. Read the title! I receive IHSS as part of my Medi-Cal Working Disabled program.”

“Well, did you know that you can transfer some of your IHSS hours to the workplace?” asks Manny.

“No way,” says Sarah.

“Yes, way,” says Manny. “Social Services released the details on this back in October 2004. Can one of your personal assistants come to the office and help prepare lunch?”

“I suppose so,” says Sarah.

“That’s great,” says Manny. “Transferring IHSS hours to the workplace is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is contact your IHSS eligibility worker, specify the number of hours that will be used in the workplace and note what services those hours will be used for. The county then needs to authorize your use of hours in the workplace before you can actually use them there.”

“I thought you could only use IHSS at home,” says Sarah.

“Well, you can’t get extra IHSS hours to use in the workplace; you have to transfer ones that were okayed for use at home,” says Manny. “But you can use them in the workplace. You still get the standard 283 hours per month you were assigned.”

“What about using workplace personal assistance for college courses?” asks Sarah.

“No. You can’t use them to attend college classes. Or vocational training for that matter. But you can use them to attend training that is required or offered by your employer.”

“Well that is good to know,” says Sarah. “One other question. Right now, I get IHSS through my Medi-Cal WDP program. But the way I’m going, I’m going to start earning more than $60,000 a year which will knock me off the WDP program. How do I get personal assistance and workplace services then?”

“A couple things, Sarah,” says Manny. “First of all, when you pay out-of-pocket for disability expenses like wheelchair repairs, keep receipts and make sure you’re reporting all these Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWEs). Once Medi-Cal accounts for those, you may be able to earn over $60,000 and still remain on the WDP program. Second, if you do go off Medi-Cal, you may want to check other resources out there that may help you access personal assistance services so you can live and work where you want. Personal assistance services can include attendant services, assistance with transportation to and from work, reader services, business travel assistance, or job coaches.”

“Thank you so much, Manny,” Sarah says. “You are always such a great help. How do you keep up with all this?”

“Well that’s what I’m here for. 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. I’m going to do everything in my power to offer folks I see with the information they need to make this a reality.”