What are reasonable accommodations?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was established to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities. As part of the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations that enable a qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of their job. The accommodation may include adjustments to the job, equipment, procedures, or work environment; but must not present an undue hardship to the organization. According to the EEOC, an “undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense.” Visit the EEOC site for guidelines on assessing undue hardships.

ADA requirements and qualifications

The ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees; however, the threshold is lower for some states. Title 1 of the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees or applicants with a qualifying disability unless it causes undue hardship to the business. Undue hardship is defined as a significant difficulty or expense, including how the accommodation will impact operations or disrupt the business.

A qualifying employee or applicant must have the skills to perform the essential functions of the job. Employers are not required to lower production standards or change essential functions of the job as a reasonable accommodation. For this reason, it is advisable to develop job descriptions that clearly outline the key responsibilities and requirements for a position. The individual making the request must have a mental or physical disability that substantially limits a major life activity. An employer may ask for documentation from a health care provider to confirm the need for accommodation.

It is essential for employers to have an adequate policy in place that outlines the process for requesting an ADA accommodation. Each request requires an interactive process, which involves a complex and thorough analysis with several factors to consider, including the overall financial resources of the organization and the impact of the accommodation.


Guidelines for the ADA interactive process

1. Initiate the ADA reasonable accommodation request.

There are no “magic words” that an employee must use when initiating an accommodation request. In many cases, employees do not understand whether they qualify for an accommodation or how the process works. Employers must be proactive and recognize when an employee may need an accommodation, inform the employee, and initiate the interactive process. As mentioned above, it is essential to include information on how to request an accommodation in the employee handbook.

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2. Engage with the employee to understand the accommodation request.

Employers are required to collaborate with the employee throughout the accommodation process. It is imperative to understand what accommodation the employee is asking for, discuss what a feasible accommodation looks like, and work together to determine a solution. Remember to document everything as evidence of the interactive process. For verbal conversations, send a follow-up email or letter to summarize what was discussed and consider having an additional person involved in the discussions.

3. Gather the information needed to process the ADA accommodation request.

In this step, the employer assesses the extent to which the impairment conflicts with the employee’s ability to perform the functions of their job. Gather the documentation required to determine if the employee has a qualifying disability. It’s essential to provide the employee with a medical certification form to be completed by a medical provider; this is different from a standard FMLA WH-380 medical certification form. It is imperative to include an up-to-date copy of the employee’s job description so the medical provider has sufficient information regarding the essential job functions.

This process, including collecting confidential medical information, should be handled by an HR professional and not the employee’s manager. Many accommodations are lifelong, but some, such as pregnancy-related accommodations, will have a determined timeline. Determine with the employee if the accommodation will be for a set amount of time or if it will be a permanent accommodation.

4. Determine whether the employee has a qualifying disability.

Have a conversation with the employee about what is restricting them from performing their job functions. This conversation should be between the employee and an HR professional, not the employee’s manager. If the employee mentions a medical condition, this is an indicator to request medical certification to get a medical professional’s input. There are no set rules; impairments do not need to be severe to qualify for an accommodation. Every request requires an individual assessment.

5. Determine what (if any) reasonable accommodations may be necessary.

Set up a time to speak with the employee to review their request, medical certification, and accommodation options the organization can provide. The accommodation should not cause undue hardship for the company. Once in place, the employee should be held to the same performance standards as other employees performing the same role.

After the interactive process is complete, provide a formal letter to the employee stating the approval or denial of the accommodation request. The letter should include the timeframe for the accommodation and when a check-in will occur, if required, to determine if the accommodation will continue. This information should also be added to the medical form. If the accommodation request has been denied, include an explanation. Get a signature from the employee and keep a copy in their personnel file.

Examples of accommodations:

    • A part-time or modified work schedule
    • Equipment modifications and improved accessibility
    • Job restructuring
    • Unpaid leave
    • Changes to the delivery of instructions, work orders, and training materials
    • Provide assistive services

Follow-up with the employee

After an accommodation has been implemented, it is best practice to check in with the employee and ensure the accommodation is going well. There may be unanticipated consequences that result from the accommodation that will need to be resolved. An employee who has been granted an accommodation to work remotely, for example, may feel isolated or have difficulty getting timely responses from other teammates. Work routines or equipment modifications may need to be adjusted for safety. A follow-up check-in will help bring these concerns to your attention earlier and prevent further issues.

All documentation collected during the accommodation process, including the approval or denial letter, should be stored in the employee’s personnel file.

Consider outside help with ADA accommodations requests

The accommodation process is very complex, and the legal guidelines are broad. Uncertainties or conflicts can leave your organization vulnerable. When a request cannot be resolved with clarity, it may be wise to bring in a competent third party to assist with the process. A qualified organization with an understanding of the ADA and the interactive process can provide objectivity, ensure a compliant resolution, and significantly reduce employer risk.

Feeling stressed by ADA and religious accommodation requests? Our team can help!


Accommodations Services

Need help developing a clear policy that outlines the process for requesting ADA and religious accommodations? The experienced professionals at Trüpp are here to help. Our custom policies and employee handbooks are carefully designed to integrate HR best practices, reflect your business environment, provide clear and employee-friendly language, and ensure that documented company policies are aligned with employment laws.

Compliance Consulting

With a deep understanding of the ADA requirements for reasonable accommodations, the ADA interactive process, qualifications for undue hardship, and the development of appropriate accommodations, the compliance specialists at Trüpp are well suited to assist with employee ADA accommodation requests. Rely on our seasoned professionals to take the guesswork out of ADA compliance.

Leave Administration Outsourcing

Is there an employee leave associated with your ADA accommodation? Managing employee leaves of absence presents many legal landmines that can be difficult to navigate. Let the experienced professionals at Trüpp remove the uncertainty with reliable and legally compliant leave administration services. As your third-party administrator, Trüpp follows meticulous procedures and timelines to ensure an efficient process that reduces risk and virtually eliminates leave abuse.

Employee Handbooks

Need help developing a clear policy that outlines the process for requesting ADA and religious accommodations? The experienced professionals at Trüpp are here to help. Our custom policies and employee handbooks are carefully designed to integrate HR best practices, reflect your business environment, provide clear and employee-friendly language, and ensure that documented company policies are aligned with employment laws.