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Workplace accommodations: What should you know?

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2023 | Employment Law |

Any disability can impact your ability to move through the world. When this limits your productivity in the workplace, it could also affect your career. Thankfully, workers with disabilities can request reasonable accommodations that will allow them to remain successful. What should you know about these accommodations?

What are reasonable accommodations?

Workplace accommodations are changes to aspects of the workplace that allow employees with disabilities to perform the core duties of their jobs. These adjustments may modify the worker’s tasks, hours, or workspace. They may also change how a business handles hiring or training disabled employees.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide these accommodations as long as they do not involve significant costs, seriously disrupt the workplace or significant impact to business operations. Employers may also suggest alternatives to an employee’s requested accommodation if those other options support their needs.

Accommodations for physical disabilities

When employees have physical limitations, they may need to make adjustments to ensure that they can perform their job duties. Some of these accommodations include:

  • Adding ramps, grab bars and other adjustments for mobility limitations
  • Offering space to store wheelchairs or other mobility devices when not in use
  • Adding accessible seating
  • Using adjustable desks
  • Offering alternative keyboards, speech recognition software or other assistive technology
  • Providing sign language interpreters or note-takers for deaf employees
  • Modifying work schedules, but note that this may not extend to a request to reduce the number of hours worked if the position is a full-time job or requires overtime
  • Adjusted training materials and testing
  • Allowing food and drinks at work stations
  • Providing documents in braille or large print
  • Allowing workers to sit while working
  • Allowing more frequent and unscheduled bathroom breaks
  • Providing a sanitary location for injections

Every person’s disability impacts them in unique ways. As a result, the accommodations you use in the workplace will reflect your individual needs and job duties. Employees are entitled to reasonable accommodation after engaging in an “interactive process” with management.  Employees are not necessarily entitled to the specific accommodation they seek.

Accommodations for mental disabilities

Accommodations are not only available for employees with physical disabilities. Workplace changes can also support the well-being of workers with mental health disorders or neurodevelopmental disorders like autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adjustments for these employees can include:

  • Identifying and reducing triggers
  • Adjusting break schedules
  • Adding room dividers or privacy screens
  • Providing a private office space
  • Offering flexible work hours, but again, not necessarily reducing hours or overtime if required for the position
  • Providing leave for treatment
  • Altering work duties to reduce non-essential tasks
  • Dimming the lights or increasing natural light
  • Allowing headphones or white noise machines
  • Dividing large projects into individual tasks
  • Using checklists and to-do lists to communicate tasks

Accommodations are as varied as the mental health conditions of individuals are personal and unique. These adjustments can help employees remain productive while protecting their well-being. This can also support the growth of their career over time.

How can you request a change?

Employees must request accommodations from their employer to make these changes. You can request changes in your workplace at any time.

However, it can be important to ask for accommodations before issues occur. If your disability impacts your work and you have not requested an accommodation, your employer could claim you cannot perform your duties. For example, symptoms like fatigue could limit your productivity in the workplace. Proactively adjusting your breaks or start time and schedule may prevent these challenges.

Providing medical support to employers may be necessary, but how the healthcare provider drafts the report is crucial to the legal outcome of the accommodation request and doctors often ask for unreasonable accommodations or just take people out of their job, with potential adverse impacts to their employment, so it is often helpful to have legal counsel work directly with your healthcare provider.

If you want guidance as you request an accommodation from your employer, you may seek advice from an attorney. They can help you understand your options and protect your rights when asking for these changes. With the right insights, you can protect your career and pursue the support you need to thrive in the workplace.