The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on disability and requires covered employers to provide effective, reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to an employee’s work environment, which enable the employee to perform the essential functions of their job.
Compliance with the ADA starts with knowing when an accommodation request has been made. Employers may not always recognize a request for accommodation since employees are not required to use any magic words or phrases when making a request. According to the EEOC, an individual may use “plain English” and doesn’t need to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” when requesting an accommodation. An employee can file a complaint under the ADA for an employer’s failure to respond to an accommodation request, so it is essential for all supervisors and managers to know how to recognize and respond to accommodation requests.
In general, if an employee indicates that they are having a problem, related to a medical condition, employers should treat that as an accommodation request. The EEOC provides the following examples in their Enforcement Guidance to help employers understand what type of comments can be considered accommodation requests.
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.
Example D: An employee tells his supervisor that he would like a new chair because his present one is uncomfortable. Although this is a request for a change at work, his statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that he is requesting a reasonable accommodation. He does not link his need for the new chair with a medical condition.
If you’re unsure whether an employee has requested an accommodation, you should ask the employee to clarify what is being requested and why. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and treat the request as an accommodation request.
Employers must respond promptly to any accommodation requests and should keep the employee informed as to the status of their request. Unnecessary delays in processing an accommodation request can violate the ADA. To streamline the accommodations process, employers should establish clear policies and procedures for handling accommodation requests.
To learn more about the ADA and the necessary steps to take once an accommodation request is received tune into our podcast, Raising the HR Bar on the link below or watch the webinar here.