Lesson Wednesday

Workplace Accommodations


If you have a disability you have the right to request accommodations in the workplace. Not everyone knows what this entails, what conditions qualify, or what kind of accommodations they can ask for, so it’s important to have some resources on hand so that you know how to advocate for yourself. Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in employment and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

Not all employers are required to comply with the ADA. The Job Accommodation Network has specifics, but one key aspect is that private employers with less than 15 employees are not required to comply.

So Who Is Protected Under Title I of the ADA?

According to Job Accommodation Network, Title I of the ADA protects qualified employees with disabilities. In this case, "employee" means an individual employed by an employer, either on a full-time or part-time basis. Please note that contract workers are not considered employees in most cases and would not be protected by Title I of the ADA.

“Qualified” in this instance means that you satisfy the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the position sought or held, and can perform the essential job functions of the position, with or without reasonable accommodation.

"Disability" means: (1) a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) a person with a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, and (3) a person who is regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This will likely require a diagnosis or some kind of medical record of disability, though not all employers will ask for documentation.

When and How Can You Request Accommodations?

You can request accommodations at any time during the application process or while you are employed, even if you did not request any during the hiring process or when you received a job offer. You can request accommodations whenever you become aware of a barrier at work due to a disability. This could be a barrier preventing you from performing your job, competing for a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment, for example access to employee parking or an employee break room.

It’s a good idea to request accommodation before the barrier impacts your work performance, because employers do not have to rescind any disciplinary actions that occurred before they knew about your disability and before your request for accommodation.

When you request accommodation, let your employer know you need an adjustment or change at work. You can use “plain English” and you don’t need to specifically mention the ADA or the phrase reasonable accommodation. It does not have to be a written request, though sometimes having a paper trail can be useful if any issues arise.

One example of a request for accommodation from the Job Accommodation Network :

“An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing." This is a request for reasonable accommodation.

There are many different types of requests for accommodation, so please refer to the Job Accommodation Network for more examples and specifics!

More About Requesting Accommodations

There are no specific timeframe requirements for employers to respond to your request for accommodations, but they should respond as soon as possible. Unnecessary delays in responding or implementing an accommodation can result in a violation of the ADA.

If your request for accommodation is denied, try to find out why. It may be denied if the accommodation you request is considered an undue hardship for the employer. An alternative accommodation may be possible. Or, the employer may need more information in order to approve your request. You may be able to appeal their decision.

You may know that you need a change or adjustment at work but you might not be sure what kind of accommodation you need. In this case, let your employer know that you need a change due to a disability, and you can explore potential accommodations with them. Or, you can check out this resource from the Job Accommodation Network. This resource is a list of disabilities, common access needs, and potential accommodations. You can use this as a jumping off point to see what might be helpful for you.

If you need another accommodation in the future, you can make another request. You can ask for accommodations as needed throughout your employment, as you become aware of barriers.

Retaliation against employees for requesting accommodation is not allowed. According to JAN, if your employer retaliates against you for requesting an accommodation, you should report the retaliation to someone higher up in the company or agency, or contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces Title I of the ADA.

How to Request Accommodations at Work

1. If possible, figure out what kind of accommodation(s) you need.

You can take a look at the JAN A to Z list of Disabilities and Accommodations if you’re not sure what kind of accommodation you need. This is not an exhaustive list, so if you need an accommodation that isn’t listed here, that’s okay. If you’re still not sure, you can try collaborating with your employer to find an accommodation together.

2. Decide to whom you will be bringing your request.

Many companies will have a dedicated HR person or department and it may be best to bring your request to their attention. Going directly to HR can have some advantages as well, as they likely have a policy of confidentiality and will only disclose the most relevant information to your direct supervisor. For example, they will usually let your direct supervisor know that you need a specific accommodation, but not the specific reason why you need it. Additionally, companies with HR departments often already have a process in place and easily accessible information about accommodations in the employee handbook.

If your employer does not have an HR department or you would prefer to talk to someone else, you can talk to whoever you feel comfortable with as long as they are someone who can advocate for you. For example, you might feel comfortable talking to your direct supervisor and having them initiate the conversation with HR. Or you may not feel comfortable speaking to your direct supervisor, but perhaps there is someone else within management that you have a good rapport with and you could start the accommodations process with them.

3. Bring your request to the person you have chosen.

You can use “plain English” and your initial request does not need to be in writing, though your company may ask you to fill out specific forms as part of the process. Here’s an example template that you can use either verbally or in writing:

“I’m having trouble with [work duty, accessing x work amenity, or other situations where there is a barrier] due to [medical treatments/ a disability/ a specific condition]. Is it possible for me to [accommodation that alleviates barrier]?”.

For example: “I’m having trouble remembering to clock in and out at the beginning and the end of my shift due to a disability. Is it possible for me to have more allowances to correct my time card?” Or, “I’m having trouble making my 8am start time because of a medication I’m currently prescribed. Is it possible for me to adjust my schedule while I’m undergoing this treatment?”.

If you’re not sure what kind of accommodation you need, you could try something like this: “I am having some challenges focusing in the open plan office due to ADHD. Could we talk about possible accommodations? Is there anything you’ve tried with previous employees who have similar accommodation needs?”.

The number one takeaway is to know that if you have a disability that is impacting your work, in most cases you have a protected right to an accommodation. Even if you are not covered by the ADA, you may still be able to get an accommodation at work, so if it feels like a safe environment to do so, please advocate for yourself. Your access needs matter!

Lesson 19 of 19
Last updated June 6, 2022