Reasonable Accommodation is Your Right under the Law

“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of workers’ disabilities. The ADA also requires managers and supervisors (Employers) to provide reasonable accommodations — changes to the workplace or job — to allow employees with disabilities to do their jobs. A reasonable accommodation is any change or modification in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that would enable an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of the job, and/or enjoy the privileges and benefits of employment.

“A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities and/or bodily functions of an individual. A qualified individual with a disability is an employee or applicant who meets the skills, experience, education, and other job related requirements, and can perform the essential functions of the position in question.

“Examples of reasonable accommodations may include: making existing facilities usable by disabled employees (e.g., modifying the height of desks and equipment, installing computer screen magnifiers, or installing telecommunications for the deaf); restructuring an employee’s job schedule to allow a ten-hour/four-day workweek so that an employee can receive weekly medical treatments; hiring readers or interpreters to assist an employee; providing alternative travel accommodations and teleworking options; and transferring an employee to another job (i.e., reassignment).

“If you have a disability, you will be in the best possible bargaining position if you approach your managers with answers to the questions on their list. The following are some things to consider:

  • Isolate the essential functions of your job.
  • Write down precisely what job-related limitations your condition imposes and note how they can be overcome by accommodations.
  • Identify potential accommodations and assess how effective each would be in allowing you to perform the job.
  • Estimate how long each accommodation could be used before a change would be required.
  • Document all aspects of the accommodation—including cost and availability.

“Keep in mind that the ADA does not require managers and supervisors to make accommodations that would cause them an undue hardship, significant difficulty, or expense. To show that a particular accommodation would present an undue hardship, management must demonstrate that it is too costly, extensive, or disruptive to provide the requested accommodation.

“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in its role as the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA, has identified the following factors that will determine whether a particular accommodation presents an undue hardship on a particular employer:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation;
  • The financial resources of the employer; a large employer, obviously, reasonably being asked to foot a larger bill for accommodations than a mom and pop business;
  • The nature of the business, including size, composition, and structure; and
  • Accommodation costs already incurred in a workplace.

“It is not easy for managers/supervisors to prove that an accommodation is an undue hardship, as financial difficulty alone is not usually sufficient. And within the context of the federal workforce, financial constraints are usually not a typical limitation experienced by most federal agencies.

“Whether you are an employee or a manager with a question or would like more information on the reasonable accommodation process, OEEO is here to serve you and answer any questions you may have. Once you are ready to move forward, we will provide you with the necessary forms to begin the process of requesting a reasonable accommodation. These forms can be found on the OEEO web site on inside.FDA.  Or you may contact us at our general service number: 301.796.9400.”

Excerpted from an email from Carol M. Moulton, M.A., J.D., Director, FDA Office of Equal Employment Opportunity, to all FDA employees on July 20, 2016.