What Does “Reasonable Accommodations” for Disabilities Actually Mean?

What Does “Reasonable Accommodations” for Disabilities Actually Mean? Federal law requires that workers who have a disability are entitled to “reasonable accommodations” provided the accommodations don’t create an undue hardship for the employer. But how must an employer reasonably accommodate a disability? Does “reasonable accommodation” just mean removing physical barriers? Can technology be considered? Can employees who are disabled be granted time off to see their doctors? What other methods are used to reasonably accommodate someone with a disability?

Which federal laws require reasonable accommodations?

Some of the federal laws that require that employers provide reasonable accommodations include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title I of the ADA defines a reasonable accommodation as “a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process.” The ADA requires reasonable accommodations to “ensure equal opportunity in the hiring process, enabling a disabled employee to perform their job, and making it possible for a disabled employee to “enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.”
  • The newly passed Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), effective June 27, 2023, requires that employers provide a reasonable accommodation to employees for limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Our Atlanta-based disability and pregnancy employee rights lawyers can explain if you are covered by these federal statutes. We seek enforcement of these laws, including reasonable accommodations requirements, before the EEOC and in court.  In one illustrative case, we have argued that a female public defender was illegally fired and subjected to retaliation after her employer failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations for her breast cancer.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has provided the following real-world examples of how an employee might make a request for reasonable accommodation at work:

Example A: An employee tells her supervisor, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example B: An employee tells his supervisor, “I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.

Read: Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Under the ADA, a disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the employee’s major life activities.

According to the EEOC, when the disability and/or the need for accommodation is not obvious, the employer may ask the individual for reasonable documentation about his/her disability and functional limitations. The employer is entitled to know that the individual has a covered disability for which he or she needs a reasonable accommodation.

Whether an accommodations is reasonable depends on the type of job, how the disability affects the employee’s ability to do their job, and the overall work environment.

Examples of reasonable accommodations for disabled employees include:

  • Providing or permitting certain equipment, products, and software
  • Allowing the disabled employee to have a flexible work schedule so the employee can receive care from their healthcare provider
  • Using software that helps employees with vision or communication problems

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires a covered employer to provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee with a known limitation related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, absent undue hardship on the operation of the business of the employer.

READ: Regulations To Implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Proposed Rule

According to the EEOC, examples of reasonable accommodations under the PWFA may include:

  • Allowing an employee to carry water and drink, as needed, in the employee’s work area;
  • Allowing an employee additional restroom breaks
  • Allowing an employee whose work requires standing to sit and whose work requires sitting to stand
  • Allowing an employee breaks, as needed, to eat and drink.

If you believe you are covered by the ADA or PWFA, our attorneys can provide guidance regarding the best way for you to discuss the accommodations you need with your particular employer.

Reasonable accommodations vary depending on whether the disability or pregnancy-related limitation is physical, cognitive, mental, or behavioral. What doesn’t vary is your right to ask for reasonable accommodations if you have a disability or you’re pregnant. At Buckley Bala Wilson Mew LLP, we assert the legal rights of disabled and pregnant employees throughout Georgia. To schedule a case evaluation, call us in Atlanta or complete our contact form today.