Requesting an Accommodation

Why

You should request a reasonable accommodation when there is a barrier that prevents or makes it difficult for you to participate in the hiring process, perform your job, meet a job standard, or access other benefits of employment.

When

You can request an accommodation while applying for a job, after receiving a job offer, after acquiring a disability, or when the nature of your disability or job changes. Keep in mind, however, that you are not required to request a reasonable accommodation until after an employer has made a job offer or after you discover that you need an accommodation to perform the job, which may be after you start working.

If you request a reasonable accommodation before a job offer is made it may be difficult to prove whether the employer denied you the job because there was a more qualified applicant or because it did not want to pay for or go to the trouble of providing accommodations. Not hiring you because you need a reasonable accommodation would be discriminatory. You may want to consider waiting to get the job offer before requesting an accommodation.

What

To request an accommodation, you should first think about your individual needs and then identify reasonable accommodations that you believe will meet those needs. An employer does not have to give you the exact accommodation you request. If more than one accommodation would work, the employer may choose which one to offer to you.

Who

You, a family member, health care provider, or an advocate knowledgeable about your disability can ask your direct supervisor, human resources manager, or other management staff for an accommodation on your behalf.

How

You can request a reasonable accommodation from your employer either verbally or in writing. It may be wise to request the accommodation in writing so you have a record of your request. You can use plain English to make your request; and you don’t have to mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation." But if you use the phrase, “reasonable accommodation” and state this is a request made under the ADA, it will make it very clear. When you request a reasonable accommodation, you have successfully started the “interactive process.” The interactive process is discussed later in this article.

Note: You should consider keeping your own written record of your accommodation requests and any written responses from your employer in case you need documentation should you be denied and choose to file a discrimination charge. If your employer has specific steps and forms related to requesting an accommodation, keep a record of these steps and copies of each form you submit.

Verbal Accommodation Requests

Here are some examples of verbal accommodation requests. They are all requests because they let the employer know that an accommodation is needed to enable the employee to complete his or her essential duties:

  • An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing. I’d like to have my starting time rescheduled.”
  • An employee tells his supervisor, "I need 6 weeks off to get treatment for a back problem."
  • A new employee who uses a wheelchair informs her employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. She requests an adjustable desk as a reasonable accommodation.

Written Accommodation Requests

Although the ADA does not require you to put your accommodation request in writing, it is always a good idea to document your accommodation requests in case there is a dispute about whether or when you requested accommodation. One way to document an accommodation request is to make a written request.

The ADA does not have specific guidelines or require employers to use specific forms for reasonable accommodation requests or initiating the interactive process. If your employer has forms, you should use the employer’s forms to make your request. If you have any questions about whether your employer is seeking more medical information than is necessary to process your request, contact staff at Disability Rights California to inquire about your rights.

If your employer doesn’t have a form, you can write a letter (or email) that clearly states your request and the medical condition that it is related to. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) recommends that you include the following in your letter:

  • Identify yourself as a person with a disability
  • State that you are requesting accommodations under the ADA (or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if you are a federal employee)
  • Identify your specific problematic job tasks
  • Identify your accommodation ideas
  • Request your employer's accommodation ideas
  • Refer to attached medical documentation, if appropriate or needed
  • Ask that your employer respond to your request in a reasonable amount of time

The Responsibilities of the Employer

Reasonable accommodations must be given to applicants and qualified employees regardless of whether they desire or have part-time, full-time, temporary, or permanent positions, or whether they are on probationary status.

After you request an accommodation and your employer agrees to your request, it is your employer’s responsibility to give you that accommodation. For example, if an employer requires employees to attend events outside the office and arranges transportation for those events, it is the employer's responsibility to make sure that the events are accessible to you. This includes the location itself and the transportation to the location.

If the accommodation you need is too difficult or too expensive to get, in relation to the employer's size, financial resources, and the needs of the business (including the size and resources of any parent company), then the employer does not have to give you the requested accommodation. This is called “undue hardship.” The employer can also deny your request if the accommodation prevents you from completing the essential duties of the job.

Example

You are a security guard for an office building and your job is to make sure that people sign-in and to watch the security cameras. If you request longer or more frequent breaks, the employer may deny your request because performing the essential job functions requires you to be physically at your station when the building is open.

An employer may not deny you an accommodation just because it involves some cost. Likewise, an employer cannot claim undue hardship based on employees' (or customers') fears or prejudices toward a person’s disability. An employer may not base a claim of undue hardship on the idea that providing one person with a reasonable accommodation might have a negative impact on the morale of other employees.

An employer also has the responsibility to respond to your request in a reasonable amount of time. Although there is no specific amount of time that employers have to respond to a reasonable accommodation request, unnecessary delays to respond to or carry out an accommodation request can result in a violation of the ADA.

Examples
  • An employer offers parking to all employees. An employee who uses a wheelchair requests from his supervisor an accessible parking space, explaining that the spaces are so narrow that there is not enough room for his van to extend the ramp that allows him to get in and out of his vehicle. The supervisor does not act on the request and does not forward it to someone with authority to respond. The employee makes a second request to the supervisor. Still, two months after the initial request, nothing has been done. Although the supervisor never definitively denies the request, the lack of action under these circumstances amounts to a denial, and thus violates the ADA.
  • An employee who is blind requests adaptive equipment for her computer as a reasonable accommodation. The employer orders this equipment and is informed that it will take 3 months before it will be delivered. No other company sells the adaptive equipment the employee needs. The employer tells the employee that someone worked on the accommodation request and has ordered the equipment. Although it will take 3 months to get the equipment, the employer has moved as quickly as possible to get the equipment. Thus, there is no ADA violation resulting from the delay. The employer and employee should figure out what can be done so that the employee can perform her job as effectively as possible while waiting for the equipment to arrive. The employer should not discipline or terminate the employee because they could not perform functions without the accommodation.

Paying for Accommodations

Many accommodations create no additional expense for your employer or are just a one-time cost, such as the purchase of additional equipment. Employers have to pay for the reasonable accommodation. They cannot pass the cost on to you by lowering your salary or paying you less than other employees in similar positions.

When determining whether an accommodation is too costly, the actual cost is what must be considered. For example, an employer who can’t afford the full price of assistive technology may be able to afford it after applying an available tax credit or tax deduction from the Internal Revenue Service. However, if the net cost of an accommodation is too expensive for the employer, the employer will be required to pay the portion that would not result in an undue burden and have the remainder paid by you, a government agency, or a private agency.

More information on where to find help to pay for accommodations can be found later in this article.

Resources for Disclosure and Reasonable Accommodations

The following resources can help you make informed decisions about disclosure and reasonable accommodations:

Example

Jane is a veteran who recently came home from war. She is transitioning back to civilian life, including returning to her previous job as a pharmacy technician. While Jane was deployed, she developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a result of the PTSD, she avoids busy places and social interactions with people because they cause her to recall difficult experiences. She also has a hard time concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety attacks.

Jane should think through her needs and then identify the reasonable accommodations required to meet those needs.

Needs

In order to perform her job well, Jane thinks she needs help with:

  • Reduction of stress
  • Concentration
  • Organization
  • Additional rest, and
  • Dealing with disturbing emotions and memories.

Reasonable Accommodations

These are some accommodations that Jane could request for her needs:

  • Private space in the back of the pharmacy away from customers
  • Permission to wear white noise headphones while working
  • Dividing her large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Both verbal and written instructions from the pharmacist
  • Longer or more frequent work breaks
  • Backup coverage for when she needs to take breaks, and
  • Additional time off for counseling.

After Jane discloses her PTSD and requests one or more reasonable accommodations, she and the employer can begin an “interactive process” to decide which accommodation or accommodations will allow Jane to perform the essential functions of her job without imposing an undue hardship on the business.