Qualified Individuals with Disabilities are Entitled to Reasonable Accommodations at Work
In our last article, we discussed certain protections disabled individuals are entitled to in the hiring process. As we mentioned, under both federal and state law an employer cannot refuse to hire a qualified person who is disabled so long as the person is capable of performing the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. But what does it mean to be a “qualified individual” or require a “reasonable accommodation”? These are legal terms of art that we will explain in greater detail below.
In order to be protected under federal and state discrimination laws in an employment context, a person with a disability/handicap must be “qualified” for the position they are applying for. This means that an applicant must be capable of performing the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodations. Job descriptions often contain information about which functions an employer deems essential, which can help applicants determine which positions they might be qualified for.
In determining which functions of a job are essential, and which are merely marginal, an employer might consider:
- The main objective of the position.
- If there are other employees who can perform some of the duties.
- If the function is highly technical or specialized.
- The amount of on-the-job training associated with the function.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation can be any accommodation that helps an applicant or employee fulfill the job requirements without imposing an undue hardship on the employer. If an applicant needs an accommodation to perform the essential duties of the position there are several different types of accommodations that may be available to them:
1. A change in the physical workspace.
Examples: installing ramps, changing the lighting, adding heat or air conditioning, etc.
2. Modification of the job requirements.
Example: assigning non-essential tasks to another employee.
3. Allowing the employee to perform a task in a different way.
Examples: standing instead of sitting, use of a computer instead of handwriting, etc.
4. Adapting the schedule.
Examples: part-time schedule, frequent breaks, late start, etc.
It is important to note that job applicants do not have to disclose a disability or history of disability to an employer. However, in order to receive a reasonable accommodation, disclosure and documentation of the disability are often necessary.
If you have specific questions about employment law or disability discrimination in the hiring process, please contact us for further information.