As most employers (hopefully) know, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires them to provide disabled employees with reasonable accommodations that allow the employees to perform their jobs. The ADA’s regulations are complex, however, and we often get questions from employers about when, why, or how they should accommodate a disabled employee. Below are six tips addressing issues that frequently arise under the ADA:
- Request for Accommodation: The disabled employee has the obligation to request an accommodation from the employer. In making the request, however, the employee may use “plain English” and does not need to mention the ADA or the words “reasonable accommodation.” Also, the employee may make the request orally rather than in writing.
- Interactive Process: Once the disabled employee requests an accommodation, the employer must engage the employee in an “informal interactive process.” This process is typically a conversation in which the employer asks questions about the nature of the employee’s disability and limitations. The purpose is to clarify what the employee needs and identify an appropriate accommodation.
- Doctor’s Note: An employer can require the employee to provide medical documentation from his or her physician describing the employee’s disability and limitations. If the employee’s documentation is insufficient, the employer can require him or her to visit the company doctor or a doctor of the employer’s choice. The exception to this rule is that the employee cannot ask for medical documentation when the employee’s disability is “obvious” (e.g., an employee who uses a wheelchair).
- Leave: Leave is a form of reasonable accommodation. A disabled employee may take leave for obtaining medical treatment or recuperating from an illness or an episodic manifestation (i.e. a flare up) of the disability. Employers should generally allow the employee to exhaust paid leave first, then provide unpaid leave as necessary. Employers must provide leave under the ADA in addition to other types of leave required federal law, such as family and medical leave.
- Reassignment: Reassignment to a vacant position is also form of reasonable accommodation. The disabled employee must be qualified for the vacant position, however. Also, reassignment is not required if it would violate a collective bargaining agreement or an established seniority system.
- Undue Hardship: An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship. Whether an undue hardship exists depends upon the financial resources of the employer and the extent to which providing the accommodation would disrupt the employer’s operations.
The tips above are not an exhaustive list of an employer’s responsibilities in providing reasonable accommodations under the ADA. For additional guidance or questions about accommodating disabled employees, please contact a Roetzel& Andress attorney.