This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.
By John V. Berry, Esq.
Many Virginia employees have come to us to discuss the reasonable accommodation process when they develop a medical condition or disability that requires a change in their duties or other workplace adjustments. We advise and represent private, federal, state and county sector employees throughout Virginia in reasonable accommodation cases.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is an employee’s request to modify their employment conditions, assignments, hours, etc. to allow them to continue working in a position despite having a disability. Notably, the reasonable accommodation process applies to both employees and job applicants in all states, including the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Primarily, under federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to most employees, encompasses and outlines reasonable accommodations. More specifically, federal employees are also covered under the Rehabilitation Act, which incorporates similar protections as the ADA.
According to these laws, employers are required to engage in the reasonable accommodation process with qualified employees unless it would create an undue hardship for them.
In Virginia, many employees are also covered under the Virginians with Disabilities Act, which applies to most employers. Under both the federal and state laws, the goal of the reasonable accommodation process is to enable employees with disabilities the opportunity to enjoy an equal opportunity in employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidelines for reasonable accommodation requests.
Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation
The most typical type of reasonable accommodation involves an employee that has developed a medical condition or disability that requires some modifications or adjustments to their working arrangements.
Usually, an employee will ask for a reasonable accommodation by approaching their supervisor or human resources department, depending on the employer, and asking for one. Accordingly, a request for reasonable accommodation can be either formal or informal. For instance, depending on the employer, some have created specific forms covering reasonable accommodation requests; whereas, other employers simply involve informal verbal discussions between the employee and their immediate supervisor.
Regardless, once requested, there is usually a discussion about the reasonable accommodation requested. The discussion between an employer and employee is often called the “interactive process,” which simply means that the employer must engage the employee in attempting to resolve the reasonable accommodation request.
This process does not mean that an employer has to grant every accommodation sought (or even the specific one requested by the employee); rather, the employer is only required to make a good faith effort to accommodate a disabled employee.
There are far too many examples of reasonable accommodations to list here as they significantly vary based on an employee’s specific disability and their particular needs. However, the Job Accommodation Network provides examples of reasonable accommodations regarding specific medical conditions.
When an employee in the Commonwealth of Virginia needs to request a reasonable accommodation due to a medical condition, it is important to obtain legal advice and/or legal representation. Our law firm is ready to advise and represent Commonwealth of Virginia employees in the reasonable accommodation process.