Reasonable accommodations

Matthew wearing a blue shirt smiling at the camera.

By Matthew Denney, attorney

When it comes to requesting a reasonable accommodation at work, every situation is unique.

This outline of the process is a guide for what you may encounter.

All of these steps are not required in every cases. And, steps may happen out of order.

Steps for requesting a reasonable accommodation at work.

You can find a text document of this graphic.

Identify Barriers, Simple Fixes

1. Think about the specific difficulties that you’re experiencing in your workplace. Do they involve the physical environment? The equipment that you’re using? Your employer’s policies and practices?

2. What’s the simplest way to address the barriers you’re facing? If new equipment is needed, how difficult would it be to install? If a modified schedule or time off work is needed, how would it impact other employees?

Need ideas?

The Job Accommodation Network maintains a website of possible accommodations for a range of disabilities.

Get Medical Documentation

3. Your doctor can write a note explaining how the accommodations you’re requesting would enable you to do your job.

  • Make it clear to your doctor that you want to remain in work. You’re asking for an accommodation that will enable you to work.
The ADA’s “Interactive Process”

4. Give your supervisor or human resources officer the doctor’s note and a written explanation of the accommodation that you’re requesting.

  • Use the word “reasonable accommodation” in your request.
  • Let your employer know that you’d be willing to meet with them about the issue.
Provide Employer with Additional Information if Appropriate

5. Your employer may ask why the accommodation is necessary. They may request medical documentation about your disability and how it relates to your request, but only for the specific issue being discussed.

  • Example: If you need an accommodation due to a back injury, your employer should not require you to disclose psychological records.

But, if your employer asks for additional relevant information, or for your doctor to fill out a specific report that’s related to your accommodation request, you may need to provide this.

Negotiate

6. Your employer may propose a different accommodation than the one you suggested. Consider whether their proposal would be effective.

If the accommodation:

  • Would not work:
    • Let your employer know why.
  • Would remove the disability-related barriers you face:
    • You may be required to accept it — even if it’s not similar to the accommodation you proposed.

The interactive process to find an effective accommodation may involve more than one meeting. And you may need to try more than one accommodation before finding one that works.

Approach a Higher-Up

7. If your employer rejects your requested accommodation without making an alternative offer, or if your employer refuses to discuss your request, communicate your request to a higher-level individual, like your supervisor’s manager or the human resources department.

Filing a Claim

You may have a claim for discrimination under Title I of the ADA if your employer:

  • Refuses to talk with you about accommodations, or
  • Rejects an accommodation that would be effective without posing an undue hardship on the employer.

8. If you’ve exhausted attempts at negotiating an accommodation, and are not an employee of the federal government, you may file a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Oregon Employees
  • A complaint should be filed within 300 days of the date that the discriminatory conduct occurred.
    • In other states this time limit may be shorter, usually 180 days.
    • You may request that your federal or state complaint be “cross-filed,” so that both state and federal authorities will receive a copy of your complaint.
  • After investigating your case and making a determination on whether or not discrimination occurred, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Bureau of Labor and Industries will issue a “right-to-sue” letter.
    • Upon receipt of this letter, you have 90 days to file a civil lawsuit in court.
Federal Employees

Your agency will likely have its own Equal Opportunity Office. In most cases, you must file a complaint with your agency’s EEO counselor within 45 days of when the discrimination occurred. After you file the initial complaint, the process will differ from the one described above.

This step-by-step guide is intended as a “best practices” model for requesting a reasonable accommodation at work. It is not intended as legal advice.

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