How should you respond to requests for reasonable accommodations?

Sometimes it''s hard to know exactly what your duty is when trying to help disabled employees fit into the workplace. What should you do when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation?
How should you respond to requests for reasonable accommodations

Sometimes it''s hard to know exactly what your duty is when trying to help disabled employees fit into the workplace. What should you do when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation?   What if you feel that he or she is asking for too much?   In March 1999, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued an enforcement guidance concerning your obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Here is a review of some important advice from the guidance.

Know what you should -- and shouldn''t -- do

When an employee requests reasonable accommodation:

·               you should meet with the employee, determine what he or she needs, and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation;

·               you are allowed to ask the employee for documentation of a disability when the disability is not obvious;

·               you are permitted to require an employee with a disability to go to a doctor of your choice if the individual does not provide sufficient information from his/her own physician (before requiring the employee to do so, however, explain why more documentation is necessary, and allow the individual time and opportunity to provide the missing information);

·               you cannot ask for documentation of a disability when both the disability and the need for a reasonable accommodation are obvious or when the individual has already provided you with sufficient documentation to show that he or she has an ADA disability and needs a reasonable accommodation;

·               you are required to provide only effective accommodation, not the particular reasonable accommodation the individual wants;

·               you should respond immediately to a request for a reasonable accommodation by meeting with the employee as quickly as possible and acting promptly to provide the accommodation (an unnecessary delay could be an ADA violation);

·               you cannot force an employee with a disability to accept a reasonable accommodation he or she does not want; however, if the employee rejects the proposed accommodation, it may render him or her unqualified to remain in the job; and

·               you should not ask whether a reasonable accommodation is needed when an applicant has not asked for one unless you know he or she has a disability and reasonably believe the applicant will need a reasonable accommodation to be able to perform the job.

Types of reasonable accommodations you should provide

You must provide reasonable accommodations to enable employees with disabilities:

·               to have equal access to workplace communications, regardless of job-related need for the information, and to attend training programs;

·               to take leave or work a modified or part-time schedule; or

·               to be reassigned to another position.

Other employer requirements

Here are some more things to keep in mind:

·               you may be required to continue to apply a workplace policy to other employees but modify the policy for a disabled employee if it is necessary to do so because of the nature of the individual''s disability;

·               you must hold open an employee''s job as a reasonable accommodation as long as it does not create undue hardship;

·               you cannot penalize an employee for taking leave that is a reasonable accommodation;

·               even if you do not allow your employees to transfer from one assignment to another, you must do so as a reasonable accommodation; and

·               if an employee is reassigned to a position that receives lower pay than his or her original position, you are required to continue to pay the higher salary only if it is your past practice to transfer employees without disabilities and maintain the higher salary;

What you don''t have to do

You are not required to:

·               monitor medication;

·               change an employee''s supervisor;

·               effectuate an accommodation that creates an undue hardship on you; or

·               withhold discipline or discharge of an employee who violates a rule of conduct.

Accommodation and undue hardship

What is and is not considered undue hardship?

·               You are not required to modify the work hours of a disabled employee if it means that other employees would be prevented from performing their jobs.

·               You are not required to allow a request for leave if the employee cannot provide a fixed date of return and you can show that not having a fixed date of return causes an undue hardship.

·               You are not allowed to use a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship.

·               You cannot claim undue hardship if a reasonable accommodation violates a collective bargaining agreement.

·               You cannot claim that making changes to property owned by another to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee causes undue hardship unless the owner of the property will not allow the changes.

Copyright 2000 M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC.

This article is an excerpt from Arkansas Employment Law Letter, written by the law firm of Jack, Lyon & Jones, P.A., based in Little Rock, Arkansas. Arkansas Employment Law Letter should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general information purposes only. Anyone needing specific legal advice should consult an attorney.

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