Gary works as a Credit Analyst for a mid-sized company. About a year ago, Gary suffered a brain injury during a car accident. Since then, he has trouble staying focused and alert during tasks, and some assignments take longer than usual to complete. His supervisor notices the changes in his work and calls Gary into the office. His supervisor tells him that his work performance has “tanked” and that he needs to “pick up the slack”. Gary tries to explain that he’s had difficulty concentrating since the accident, but his supervisor cuts him off, saying, “we hired you to do a job, and if you can’t do it, we will find someone else.”
Gary walks out of the meeting hurt and frustrated. He likes his job and believes that he can continue doing the work. He doesn’t think it’s fair that his boss is punishing him for something that’s out of his control.
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Gary, luckily, has the law on his side. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability. Furthermore, the ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace that enable a qualified employee with a disability to perform his or her job. Reasonable accommodations are any changes to the workplace or the way a job is performed that allows an employee to do the job despite his or her disability. They level the playing field and should not be considered unfair advantages.
Accommodations are based on specific barriers rather than the underlying disability. In Gary’s situation, he has trouble with concentrating and staying on task. Some reasonable accommodations could include written instructions, a color-coding system with tabs and sticky notes, or breaking down a task into multiple steps. Other examples of reasonable accommodations can include:
- Improving access to the workplace, such as installing a ramp or modifying the bathrooms, for an employee with limited mobility
- A flexible work schedule allowing periodic breaks for an employee with clinical depression
- Text-to-speech and speech recognition software for an employee who is blind or has low-vision
- Modifying a “no animals” policy to allow an employee to bring his or her service animal to work
Employees may receive a reasonable accommodation if he or she is a qualified employee and the requested accommodation would not be an undue hardship on the employer. To be a “qualified” employee, an individual must be able to do perform the essential functions – or fundamental duties – of the job with or without accommodations. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee with a disability regardless of whether he or she is full-time or part-time.
An accommodation is an “undue hardship” only if it is too costly or would be significantly difficult to implement. Employers must determine whether an accommodation is an undue hardship on a case-by-case basis; they cannot make decisions based on stereotypes or generalized conclusions. Employers are NOT, however, required to eliminate or significantly change an essential function of the job as an accommodation.
Employees can request reasonable accommodations from their supervisors or their organization’s Human Resources office. If the disability or need for an accommodation is not obvious, employers may ask for medical documentation verifying the existence of a disability and its functional limitations. An employee’s preferred accommodation will be given consideration, however, the employer may choose among reasonable accommodations so long as the chosen accommodation is effective.
Job Accommodations – U.S. Department of Labor
Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace – ADA National Network
The Job Accommodation Network
Kyla Bishop is an attorney with Disability Rights Arkansas. Email her at kbishop@disabilityrightsAR.org.