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How To Request Employer Disability Accommodations at Work


In California, employees with qualifying disabilities can request specific accommodations be made for them in the workplace to create a safe environment. These accommodations include new accessways, reasonable modifications of the premises, changes in work tasks, or allowing a disabled individual to use specific equipment while working.

Knowing how to request employer disability accommodations can ensure a safe, functional workplace. Learn the process for requesting reasonable accommodations and how a California employment disability lawyer can help you report an ADA violation in California if your employer refuses to honor your protected rights.

What is a Disability Accommodation?

A disability accommodation is any change or modification to the work environment to help ensure a disabled employee can work efficiently and safely without undue pain, anxiety, or discomfort. They typically include:

  • Access modifications. Modifications to the business premises to make it easier for disabled individuals to access and traverse. Examples include wheelchair ramps, wheelchair-accessible elevators, and hold bars.
  • Physical modifications. Changes to the business premises’ equipment or workspace to ensure it is more comfortable or easier for disabled employees to use. They include ergonomic furniture, adjustable lighting, and soundproofing.
  • Communication aids. Employees with visual, hearing, or sensory impairments may request access to devices, modified materials, or services to communicate. Examples include screen-reader software, Braille signage, sign language interpreters, and hearing aids.
  • Scheduling and policy adjustments. Some disabilities may require employees to have access to additional leave, lighter or modified work duties, time off to receive medical treatment, alternative schedule options, or the ability to work from home.

What Disabilities Are Covered?

Any employee with a disability, as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), can request reasonable workplace accommodations. Qualifying disabilities can include the following:

  • Physical disabilities. Any condition affecting mobility, dexterity, or physical capacity is covered. Examples include visual impairments, reduced hearing, paralysis, and missing limbs.
  • Mental and psychological disabilities. This can include anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, schizophrenia, and any other condition significantly affecting typical life activities.
  • Cognitive impairments. Qualifying conditions include learning disabilities, high sensory sensitivity, brain injuries, and developmental disorders like autism.
  • Chronic health issues. Conditions severely impacting quality of life, such as heart disease, chronic pain, or cancer, can also qualify as disabilities.

How to Request Disability Accommodations

You can request reasonable disability accommodations from your employer verbally or in writing. While mentioning the ADA or using the term “reasonable accommodation” is not legally necessary, they can help clarify your requests to your employer.

If you can’t make the request in person, your spouse, a family member, a colleague, a healthcare provider, or an employment disability lawyer can make it on your behalf.

Regardless of your chosen method, keep a record of your requests and how your employer responds. If your employer refuses or displays discriminatory behavior, documenting or recording a denied disability accommodation request can help you build a case for a potential ADA violation lawsuit.

The Request Process

Asking for reasonable accommodations starts with the interactive process. A typical, formal disability accommodation request includes the following steps:

  • Initial request. You contact the employer to request a reasonable accommodation for your disability or condition. It can be a verbal request in person or written, either on paper, by email, or through other electronic means.
  • Identification of needs. You and your employer have a private meeting to discuss the specifics of your disability, your needs, and how it limits you in the workplace.
  • Providing documents. You provide documentation regarding your disability, including assessments, diagnostic tests, or an expert opinion from medical professionals for accommodation support.
  • Identification of essential functions. You and your employer break down your job functions into essential functions, those you must be able to perform with or without the help of reasonable accommodation, and nonessential duties, which are tasks associated with but not required for the job.
  • Discussion of accommodations. You discuss possible accommodations allowing you to perform essential functions and complete your work duties. They can include changes to the workplace environment, elimination of nonessential functions, or different tasks.
  • Follow-through. You and your employer must find the most effective accommodations for your job, responsibilities, disability, and preferences. They may consider the administrative and financial costs of your request. If you reach an agreement, your employer must provide the decided accommodations and ensure they are effective as needed.

Example: How to Properly Request Accommodations

Emily is a graphic designer who has recently been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition affects the nerves in the hands and wrists, reducing her ability to type, write, grip objects, and perform various daily activities.

Under the ADA, this condition qualifies as a disability, allowing Emily to request reasonable accommodations. When meeting with her employer, she discloses the type and severity of her condition and provides documentation from her doctor supporting her statement.

She details the following needs to continue performing her job:

  • Limiting extended computer usage to reduce the strain on her hands and wrists
  • Changing postures whenever necessary to avoid prolonged sitting
  • Ability to request frequent breaks, reducing continuous strain
  • Access to more comfortable equipment to continue performing her essential functions, such as writing and drawing

Having identified her needs, Emily requests specific, reasonable accommodations such as:

  • Ergonomic equipment. Suitable equipment, such as ergonomic keyboards and computer mice, a standing desk, and wrist supports, are designed to alleviate pain and long-term strain.
  • Scheduled breaks. Adding multiple short, scheduled breaks during the day can provide enough time for Emily to rest her hands and wrists, limiting straining.
  • Deadline flexibility. Requesting more flexible deadlines can help accommodate slower typing speed or hand movements, limiting stress and prioritizing safe task completion.
  • Reassignment of nonessential tasks. If Emily’s job involves nonessential tasks like handling paperwork, extensive data entry, or assembling packages, she can request her employer reassign them to other employees to limit hand strain.

Example: Ineffective Accommodations Request

While state and federal laws require employers to make accommodations for their disabled employees, they are not obligated to accept all requests. In Emily’s case, the following mistakes could result in a fair refusal of accommodations:

  • Vague or unspecific requests. If Emily makes a vague request, such as “more comfortable office equipment,” employers may not understand the nature and extent of her needs, impacting their ability to provide proper accommodations.
  • Refusing potential alternatives. Emily’s employers may suggest alternatives to her proposed accommodations that fit the business’s budget and resources. An outright refusal can impact her employer’s accommodation process.
  • Failing to provide supporting documentation. If Emily cannot provide documentation or medical opinions from professionals regarding her disability, her employer may be unable to provide accommodations.
  • Eliminating essential functions. Emily’s employer can refuse accommodations if they eliminate her job’s core functions or lower production standards. These are not considered reasonable accommodations under the ADA.
  • Requesting irrelevant accommodations. Employers are not required to accept accommodation requests unrelated to Emily’s disability, such as access to equipment for personal use.

When Should I File an EEOC Complaint?

If you’re facing issues with disability accommodations at work in California, consider filing an EEOC complaint with the California Department of Civil Rights (CDR). This can hold your employer responsible and help you obtain compensation for lost wages or benefits.

When you suffer ADA violation examples, such as an employer refusing an ergonomic workstation or flexible hours, you can report your employer through the formal complaint process. This initiates an investigation, which can result in a reasonable accommodation lawsuit if evidence shows they violated your rights.

You can work with an empowerment law attorney to help file your complaint and represent your case if it goes to court.

Protect Your Right to Disability Accommodations in California

Understanding and asserting your rights under the ADA is crucial for protecting your entitlement to disability accommodations in the workplace. If your employer fails to comply, filing a complaint or initiating an ADA lawsuit in California with the help of an attorney can enforce your rights and hold your employer accountable.



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