What is Reasonable Accommodation?
Disabled federal employees with mental or physical disabilities can request reasonable accommodations in the workplace. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or the way a job is carried out that creates equal employment opportunities for disabled people. This right came out of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers depending on the severity of the disability and other factors. In fact, reasonable accommodations can only be denied if they will cause undue hardships. Undue hardship is simply a request that would can extreme operational difficulties or significant financial strain. There are several types of reasonable accommodations that include:
- Job Restructuring
- Modified or Part-Time Schedule
- Modified Workplace Policies
A common type of reasonable accommodation is job restructuring. Job restructuring includes modifications such as reallocating or redistributing job functions that an employee is unable to perform because of a disability. It also includes altering when and how a function is performed.
Another common type of reasonable accommodation requested is the use of accrued paid leave or unpaid leave. An employer does not have to provide paid leave beyond what is already provided to similarly-situated employees. Employees with a disability should exhaust their accrued paid leave first before requesting additional unpaid leave. An employee with a disability may request leave for various reasons, including:
- Obtaining medical treatment
- Recuperating from an illness
- Avoiding temporary adverse working conditions
- Training a service animal
- Receiving training to learn sign language, etc.
Modified or Part-Time Schedule
An employee may request a modified schedule as a reasonable accommodation. A modified schedule may involve:
- Adjusting arrival or departure times
- Providing periodic breaks
- Altering when certain functions are performed
- Allowing an employee to use accrued paid leave, or
- Providing additional unpaid leave
An employer must provide a modified or part-time schedule when required as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship, even if it does not provide such schedules for other employees.
Modified Workplace Policies
It is a reasonable accommodation to modify a workplace policy when needed by a worker with disabilities. However, reasonable accommodation only requires that the employer modify the policy for an employee who requires such action because of a disability; so, the employer may continue to apply the policy to all other employees.
If an employee with disabilities is unable to perform their current role adequately because of their health’s limitations, they can request reassignment to a vacant position; unless the employer can show that it would be an undue hardship. The employee must be “qualified” for the new position. They must have the skill, experience, and education needed to perform the new position’s essential functions--with or without reasonable accommodations.
When Can A Reasonable Accommodation Be Requested?
According to the Rehabilitation Act, a reasonable accommodation can be requested at any time. Additionally, the request can be given either orally or in writing. Once requested an employer has an obligation to act on the requested changes in a timely manner.