The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain employers to provide reasonable accommodations to both job applicants and current employees with disabilities (i.e., any physical or mental disability that limits one or more major life activities) during the hiring and employment process unless the accommodation would cause “undue hardship.” These limitations can include not being able to do something the way that others do and can include issues with hearing, communicating, caring for yourself, learning, seeing, thinking, and/or walking.
Reasonable accommodations are essentially adjustments or changes made that allow the applicant or employee to participate in activities and tasks as well as access environments. There are a number of employment circumstances that warrant requesting a reasonable accommodation, such as when a barrier makes it difficult-to-impossible for you to participate in the hiring process, meet a job standard, and/or access employment benefits, and each request is considered on a case-by-case basis.
The ADA requires that if an applicant or employee makes an accommodation request, that request is addressed in an informal process, known as the interactive process. The process begins when the request is made in the employee’s preferred form of communication, and it does not have to be in writing. It can also be made at any point in the hiring process. Once it is made, the employer should act quickly to communicate that it has been received and inform the applicant or employee as to what the next steps are and what to expect. A time should then be scheduled to discuss the request further.
If an applicant or employee communicates a problem with the hiring process or workplace and this is related to a medical condition, the employer should treat this as a request for reasonable accommodation, and if the circumstances are unclear, the employer should seek clarification from the employee. This can include requesting medical documentation from the applicant or employee. However, when the disability and need for accommodation are obvious, obtaining documentation is not permitted.
Examples of requests for accommodations include but are not limited to the following:
It is important to note that any and all medical information obtained by an employer must be kept confidential. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also provides employers with guidance with respect to how these medical files are to be kept separate from general personnel files, as well as storage requirements. However, it is also important to note that medical information may be shared with certain designated parties under some circumstances, such as those that relate to emergency situations, sharing certain information with supervisors, and/or with respect to compliance investigations or insurance claims.
Typically, finding the right accommodation solution will involve a back-and-forth between employee and employer and include asking the employee for their thoughts on what type of accommodation will work best for their needs. With employee permission, the employer can also seek recommendations and guidance from the employee’s medical provider, as well as state and federal agencies put in place to provide support for these services.
The employer ultimately retains the right to choose the most effective accommodation, and they also have the right to select the least expensive (but effective) option. When it is unclear as to whether the preferred solution will work, a trial period is permitted, and this should be supported by a written agreement between the parties.
If you or a loved one has experienced discrimination in the hiring or employment process due to their disability, our Columbus, Ohio, disability discrimination attorneys are here to help. Contact us today to set up a confidential consultation and find out more.
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