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Disability Accommodation in the Workplace

Quick Tips for Employers

Have a process by which employees (and applicants) can request a medical accommodation.
  • Document your process, including who is responsible for what steps in the process (ex. supervisor, HR, etc.)
  • Communicate the process so all employees (and job applicants) are aware
Train your supervisors to recognize when an accommodation is being requested.
  • Even with a formal process in place, individuals don't need to use "magic words" to request an accommodation
  • Train your supervisors to recognize when an individual may require a medical accommodation
Respect medical confidentiality.
  • Don't make assumptions about someone's limitations, even if you have reason to believe they have a disability
  • Don't engage in prohibited medical inquiries
  • Discuss medical issues privately, limit who has such information, and protect confidentiality of records
What aspects of the job is the employee medically limited from doing? And what (if any) accommodations might allow the employee to perform those aspects of their job?
  • An effective accommodation is one that allows the employee to satisfactorily perform the job
  • An accommodation need not be the one preferred by the employee, just one that is effective
  • Reasonable accommodations may include changes to job duties, leaves of absence, changes in work hours, etc
  • "Clemency and forbearance" with regard to work rules or production standards may be a reasonable accommodation – especially while working with the employee to find an effective accommodation
What would be the cost of those accommodations on the organization? Would it be "hardship"?
  • "Hardship" may exist if the accommodation is difficult to achieve or expensive relative to the resources of the business, or overly disruptive to operations
  • In determining hardship, one should consider the actual costs of accommodation, not hypothetical costs
  • Not just any cost constitutes a "hardship" – most accommodations will have some cost to the organization
Have you accommodated other similarly situated employees? How?
  • Offering an accommodation to some employees but not others may constitute unlawful discrimination
  • Legitimate, non-discriminatory operational needs may justify not being able to offer particular accommodations to allemployees
  • Consult with an HR professional or attorney
When will you loop back to assess how the accommodation is working?
  • It is reasonable to re-assess the cost and effectiveness of an accommodation after a period of time to determine whether the accommodation can or should be continued

For more information on disability accommodation, call the Equal Rights Division at (608) 266-6860 or (414) 227-4384, email us at or visit our website.