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Legal Insider: Reasonable Accommodations for Employees With Disabilities

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.

A reasonable accommodation is a modification to employment conditions or work practices that provides employees with disabilities equal opportunity at employment.

Reasonable accommodations apply to both employees and job applicants in all states and the District of Columbia. Most employees are generally covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but federal employees are covered under a similar law known as the Rehabilitation Act. In Virginia, employees are also covered under the Virginians with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other civil rights governmental entities enforce these laws.

Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation

A request for reasonable accommodation can be formal or informal. Some employers have specific forms covering reasonable accommodation requests and others simply involve verbal discussions between the employee and his/her immediate supervisor or human resources department.

The most typical accommodation involves an employee who has developed a medical condition or disability that requires some changes to his/her working arrangement.

The discussion between an employer and employee is often referred to as the “interactive process,” which means that the employer works with the employee in an effort to arrive at a reasonable accommodation that does not create an undue hardship on the employer. Although the employer is not required to grant every accommodation request, the employer is required to make a reasonable effort at resolving the accommodation at issue.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

  • An employee develops a back disability and requests a new chair because his current chair is aggravating his back condition.
  • An employee has developed a serious medical condition and is undergoing medical treatment in the morning. She informs her supervisor that she needs an adjustment in her start time for eight weeks while she undergoes treatment.
  • An employee develops cancer and requests daily breaks at a certain time to take his medication.
  • An employee develops a disability that prevents her from performing her assigned duties so she requests a position reassignment.

For more information, the EEOC has published additional guidance on reasonable accommodations.

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