California Disability Discrimination: What is a Reasonable Accommodation

California workers with physical and mental disabilities can request reasonable accommodations if they are necessary to assist them in their daily duties. Our Los Angeles disability discrimination lawyers know, however, that the question of what, exactly, a reasonable accommodation is can be a bit unclear. Los Angeles employment lawyer

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that in order to ask for a reasonable accommodation, one must meet the definition of having a physical or mental impairment that substantially inhibits one or more major life activities. At the state-level, we have the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the Unruh Civil Rights Act, and the Disabled Persons Act all protect workers from disability-based discrimination.

What are Reasonable Accommodations?

Reasonable accommodations are slight changes that are made – either to the duties of the job or how/when/where/with what it’s performed. Ultimately, the goal is to provide reasonable tools that a qualified, disabled employee needs to complete the essential functions of their job while enjoying equal workplace opportunities. The requested accommodations must be within reason, and not place “undue hardship” on the employer.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Restructuring of the job or changing job tasks. (An example may include providing a visual checklist for an employee on the autism spectrum.)
  • Medical leave – intermittent or in a single chunk.
  • Modified work schedule (allowing flexibility on days and times when work can be completed).
  • Modified work space (including alternative work sites, such as telework, adjusted equipment or software, adaptations of tests/training materials, reserved parking, etc.).
  • Allowing a service animal to be present on the job site.
  • Job reassignment to a vacant position.

What is considered “reasonable” for one employer may cause an undue hardship for another, so it’s really to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

For a person to be considered “qualified,” the job applicant or employee must have the ability to carry out the essential job functions. These are duties that are fundamental to the job, the reason the job exists in the first place. Some factors that help your Los Angeles employment lawyer determine whether the functions are essential:

  • Does the position exist specifically to perform these essential functions?
  • Are other employees available to perform these same job duties?
  • What sort of skills or expertise are required to perform these essential functions?

Once an accommodation is granted, both the employer and employee should keep the lines of communication open to ensure the accommodation is effective so that adjustments can be made accordingly.

What Should I Do If My Request for Reasonable Accommodation is Denied?

An employees request for reasonable accommodations can lawfully be denied, but only under certain circumstances. Those include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):

  • The employee is not an individual with a qualifying disability. (Temporary impairments may not be significant enough to be considered “qualifying,” as the extent and duration of the condition’s ability to limit major life activities may be weighed.)
  • The employee hasn’t provided adequate documentation from a medical professional demonstrating a qualifying disability.
  • The employee can perform essential job functions without the benefit of accommodation.
  • The requested accommodation isn’t going to enable the employee to perform their essential job functions.
  • The accommodation is being requested for primarily non-disability-related reasons, rather than because of the disability.
  • The requested accommodation would pose a direct threat to safety or health.
  • The request would result in an undue hardship to the operations of the company, and there isn’t a reasonable alternative.

If you believe the request was unfairly denied, you should have a discussion with your employer to ensure you understand exactly why the request was denied – on what grounds. Our employment attorneys recommend that you get the reason for that denial in writing.

If your employer refuses to to give you a reason OR if you think the reason given was pretextual (and this really is discrimination for your disability), then there should be a discussion with an experienced employment law attorney. Same goes for scenarios where there is backlash or retaliation for the fact that you’ve made the request at all.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Accommodations, U.S. Department of Labor

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