Requesting an Accommodation

Why

You should request a reasonable accommodation when there is a barrier that prevents you from performing your job or accessing other benefits of employment.

When

You can request an accommodation while applying for a job, after receiving a job offer, after acquiring a disability, or when the nature of your disability or job changes.

What

To request an accommodation, you should first think about your individual needs and then identify reasonable accommodations that meet those needs. An employer does not have to give you the exact accommodation you request. If more than one accommodation would work, the employer can choose which one to get.

Who

You or an advocate knowledgeable about your disability can ask your direct supervisor, human resources manager, or other management staff for an accommodation on your behalf.

How

You can request a reasonable accommodation from your employer either verbally or in writing. You can use plain English to make your request; and you don’t have to mention the ADA or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation." One way of requesting a reasonable accommodation is called the “interactive process.” The interactive process is discussed later in this article.

Verbal Accommodation Requests

Here are some examples of accommodation requests done verbally. They are all requests because they let the employer know that an accommodation is needed to enable the employee to complete his or her essential duties:

  • An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing. I’d like to have my starting time rescheduled.”
  • An employee tells his supervisor, "I need 6 weeks off to get treatment for a back problem."
  • A new employee who uses a wheelchair informs her employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. She requests an adjustable desk as a reasonable accommodation.

Written Accommodation Requests

Although you don’t have to make your accommodation request in writing, it is always a good idea to document your accommodation requests in case there is a dispute about whether or when you requested accommodation. One way to document an accommodation request is to make a written request.

The ADA does not include specific guidelines or forms for requesting reasonable accommodations. Some employers have forms you should use to make your request.

If your employer doesn’t have a form, you can write a letter (or email) that clearly states your request and the medical condition that it is related to. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) recommends that you do the following in your letter:

  • Identify yourself as a person with a disability
  • State that you are requesting an accommodation under the ADA (or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, if you are a federal employee)
  • Identify your specific problematic job tasks
  • Identify your accommodation ideas
  • Request your employer's accommodation ideas
  • Refer to attached medical documentation, if appropriate
  • Ask that your employer respond to your request in a reasonable amount of time

The Responsibilities of the Employer

After you request an accommodation and your employer agrees to your request, it is your employer’s responsibility to give you that accommodation. For example, if an employer requires employees to attend events outside the office and arranges transportation for those events, it is the employer's responsibility to make sure that the events are accessible, including the location and the transportation to the location. Reasonable accommodations must be given to qualified employees regardless of whether they have part-time, full-time, temporary, permanent, or probationary status.

If the accommodation you need is too difficult or too expensive to get (in relation to the employer's size, financial resources, and the needs of the business), then the employer does not have to give it to you. This is called “undue hardship.” The employer can also deny your request if the accommodation prevents you from completing the duties of the job.

Example

You are a security guard for an office building and your job is to watch the cameras and make people sign-in. If you request longer or more frequent breaks, the employer may deny your request, because it is an essential function of the job to physically be there when the building is open.

An employer cannot refuse to give you an accommodation just because it involves some cost. Likewise, an employer cannot claim undue hardship based on employees' (or customers') fears or prejudices about your disability. Nor can an employer base a claim of undue hardship on the fact that giving you a reasonable accommodation might have a negative impact on the morale of other employees.

Paying for Accommodations

Many accommodations create no additional expense for your employer or are just a one-time cost, such as the purchase of additional equipment. Employers have to pay for the reasonable accommodation. They cannot pass the cost on to you by lowering your salary or paying you less than other employees in similar positions.

However, if an accommodation is found to be unreasonable because it is too expensive for the employer to get, it is possible for you, a government agency, or a private agency to help pay for the accommodation.

More information on where to find help to pay for accommodations can be found later in this article.

Resources for Disclosure and Reasonable Accommodations

The following resources can help you make informed decisions about disclosure and reasonable accommodations:

Example

Jane is a veteran who recently came home from war. She is transitioning back to civilian life, including returning to her previous job as a pharmacy technician. While Jane was deployed, she developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As a result of the PTSD, she avoids busy places and social interactions with people because they cause her to recall difficult experiences. She also has a hard time concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety attacks.

Jane should think through her needs and then identify the reasonable accommodations required to meet those needs.

Needs

In order to perform her job well, Jane thinks she needs help with:

  • Reduction of stress
  • Concentration
  • Organization
  • Additional rest, and
  • Dealing with disturbing emotions and memories.

Reasonable Accommodations

These are some accommodations that Jane could request for her needs:

  • Private space in the back of the pharmacy away from customers
  • Permission to wear white noise headphones while working
  • Dividing her large assignments into smaller tasks and steps
  • Both verbal and written instructions from the pharmacist
  • Longer or more frequent work breaks
  • Backup coverage for when she needs to take breaks, and
  • Additional time off for counseling.

After Jane discloses her PTSD and requests one or more reasonable accommodations, she and the employer will begin an “interactive process” to decide which accommodation or accommodations will allow Jane to perform the essential functions of her job without imposing an undue hardship on the business.