California and federal law contain strong protections for employees with disabilities, including an employer’s obligation to engage in an “interactive dialogue” and provide reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment in a job, employment practice or work environment that allows an individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity and perform the essential functions of the job. Whether a proposed accommodation is reasonable is highly fact-specific; what would be reasonable for one employer or job function may not be reasonable for another.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to:
- Making physical changes to the workplace (e.g., accessible break rooms, restrooms, parking spaces)
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices such as dictation software or headsets
- Providing an unpaid extension of a paid or unpaid leave, to allow the employee to recover enough to return to work in the future
- Allowing assistive animals (assuming such animals are trained to assist the employee, housebroken, and not a threat to health or safety of other workers)
- Modifying a policy
- Telecommuting/working from home
- Job restructuring or reassignment to a vacant position
If an employee requests an accommodation, work with him/her to understand the physical limitations caused by the disability. This may require having the doctor review a list of essential job functions; for this reason, it is advisable to include physical requirements (such as “must be able to lift 30 pounds) in a job description. Engage the employee and find out what the employee believes would allow him/her to perform the job with or without a reasonable accommodation, and document the discussions. Consider explaining the reasons for why a particular accommodation cannot be provided (cost, disruption to operations, etc.)
As an employee, be as clear as possible in communicating, in writing and in person, what accommodations you need in order to perform the job; do not assume that the employer knows. Keep in mind that there are times when the employer, for business reasons, will not be able to provide the accommodation you request. Be persistent, polite, and flexible.
Occasionally, management and the employee are not able to reach a resolution. We can help you manage the accommodation process and coach you on how to respond, whether you are an employee or employer.