Law Office of Jeffrey D. Fulton

Understanding Reasonable Accommodation

One of the murkier questions concerning disability discrimination is whether a California employer has done enough to accommodate disabled individuals seeking to apply at the employer’s workplace or who already are employed. Federal law makes it clear employers should assist the disabled, but how they should do so and to what extent requires further explanation.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to employees or applicants who have a disability. Basically, an employer alters the work environment so that an individual’s disability is not an impediment to applying for a job, carrying out the duties of the position applied for, or otherwise enjoying the privileges and benefits offered by the position. For example, an employer can accommodate a wheelchair bound employee by creating ramps inside and outside the facility so the employee can enjoy access. In some cases, an employer does not have to do anything other than rearrange the ordinary pattern of doing things in the workplace to accommodate a disabled worker.

However, as Findlaw points out, the ADA does not establish who acts proactively in accommodating a worker’s disability. Employers, for example, may not know if they should directly ask a disabled applicant about specific accommodations. The ADA, however, does prohibit an employer from specifically asking an applicant about his or her disabilities or requiring medical tests unless a batch of new hires all are required to take the same exam regardless of disability. Additionally, an employer is permitted to ask about an applicant’s ability to fulfill the vital functions of a job position.

Courts typically judge cases of reasonable accommodation by whether the disabled worker can fulfill the primary functions of the job position. If, for example, a person takes a job that requires constant lifting of packages above twenty five pounds but constantly requires assistance by another person, a court may determine the person is not qualified for the job. Conversely, if that same worker needs similar assistance lifting a heavy package in a different job setting, such as an office, and the lifting is not a regular part of the person’s job, that kind of help would likely be seen as reasonable.

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