Providing reasonable accommodations for disabled employees.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that requires all qualifying employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is any type of assistance that makes it easier for the disabled employee to perform their job. If the employer does not provide these accommodations they may be opening themselves up to liability for failing to do so.
What are some examples of reasonable accommodations?
- Providing flexible work schedules
- Reserved parking spaces for the handicapped
- A ramp at the entrance of the building
- Making drinking fountains accessible
- Removing potential hazards from the path of blind people
A reasonable accommodation also applies to disabled people during the application process, so you may have to take steps to ensure that disabled people are able to access your workplace and do whatever is necessary to apply for a job. Keep in mind however, that a reasonable accommodation is tailored to each individual with a disability, so it must be specific for the employee or applicant.
You do not have to read the employee or applicant’s mind
In order to figure out what accommodations need to be provided the law requires that you consult with the disabled individual. Thus, you do not need to guess, you can simply ask the person what assistance they need and then provide it. For applicants it may be as simple as allowing them to apply and interview at a different, more handicap-friendly, workplace. You can also seek assistance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Job Accommodation Network and either agency can provide you with tips on how to accommodate disabled employees.
The law does require you to make reasonable accommodations, but it does not force you to do so where it places an undue hardship upon your business. Thus, if the accommodation would require a great degree of difficulty or expense you may not have to accommodate. What constitutes an undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis, but the EEOC has a few guidelines for making this determination:
- The net cost of the accommodation
- The size of the business and its financial resources
- The structure of the business
- The impact of the accommodation on business operations
So a small business may not have to provide the same accommodations as a large business with great financial resources. Also, if it affects the nature of the business you may not have to accommodate. For example: if an employee is sensitive to the cold it may not make sense for an ice skating rink to raise the temperatures to accommodate for him, but if his job is bookmaking they may be required to provided a heated space for him to conduct his work.
When running your own business every employer should be aware of the rules regarding disabled employees. The law requires you to provide reasonable accommodations and to make it easier for the employee to do their job, but not if it requires great expense or changing the nature of the business. Contact a local attorney; the EEOC or the Job Accommodation Network to make sure your business is in compliance with the law.
 Fred S. Steingold, The Employer’s Legal Handbook: Manage your Employees and Workplace Effectively 185-188 (Alayna Schroeder ed., Nolo 9th ed. 2009).