The U.S. Department of Labor says there are more than 18.5 million workers from ages 16 through 64 who have disabilities and are employed in the United States. Whether you are temporarily or permanently disabled, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you against unlawful firing or discriminatory treatment while working.
The ADA says that job providers must make reasonable accommodations to enable disabled workers who are qualified to do the job to continue their employment. The ADA also says a reasonable accommodation could apply to job duties or how the job is done.
Examples of reasonable workplace accommodations include:
- Adjusting work duties
- Reconfiguring a worksite to remove barriers
- Providing an interpreter
- Creating a flexible work schedule
- Assigning the disabled worker to a vacant job opening
The accommodation should make it easier for the worker to do the job successfully. If the worker has to go to doctor appointments or similar disability-related appointments, the employer should accommodate to the best of its ability. Those are examples of commonly applied workplace accommodations that are reasonable and do not cause undue hardships for the employer or other workers.
How to Make Reasonable Requests for Workplace Accommodations?
Whether you have a permanent disability or a temporary one, the method for requesting a reasonable accommodation mostly is the same. You first must tell your employer that you have a disability. Without knowing a disability exists, your employer cannot initiate a workplace accommodation for you.
Your employer can require proof of the disability. A doctor’s note or similar affirming documentation is needed to prove you have a disability. There are no standardized processes for determining a reasonable workplace accommodation. Every decision is made on a case-by-case basis, with your employer being the initial judge of what it considers to be reasonable.
It helps to clearly explain your situation and show evidence of the disability. You also should consider the impact of your request and how it might affect the workplace or your co-workers. If the request is reasonable and enables you to perform your essential functions, you stand a much better chance of gaining approval.
Employers Could Deny Requests that Create Undue Hardships
Even if you have an ADA-recognized disability and full medical documentation to prove it, your employer could deny the request. It is important that you make a reasonable request for workplace accommodation. If your request would cause an undue hardship on your employer or coworkers, your employer would have the right to deny it.
Many factors could cause undue hardship, including the potential:
- Cost to implement it
- Effect on workplace resources
- Impact on other workers
If the employer determines the request for a workplace accommodation would cost too much or take up too many resources, it could deny the request. If fulfilling the request would have a significantly negative effect on work production or infringe on other workers’ rights, the employer could deny the request.
It helps to suggest more than one workplace accommodation and be willing to work with the employer to make one work. If your employer denies one accommodation request but another does not cause an undue hardship, your employer must accept the secondary request.
Examples of Unlawful Denials of Requests for Reasonable Accommodations
Your employer cannot deny a reasonable request for workplace accommodations out of a bias against a worker or the disability. Fear or prejudice due to the disability does not qualify as a lawful reason to deny a request. For example, if your disability is due to the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), your employer could not deny your request out of fear of HIV or any prejudices against people who are afflicted with HIV.
The employer also could not claim undue hardship if a temporary shifting of minor workplace assignments causes one or more affected co-workers to be unhappy about it. Even if another worker has to take on additional assignments, so long as doing so does not interfere with that worker’s ability to perform the primary assignment, there is no undue hardship.
Those are just two examples of how an employer might unlawfully deny a request for a reasonable accommodation for a disability. There are many situations in which a request might or might not be denied lawfully. That is why requests are handled on a case-by-case basis and utilize the fundamentals of reasonable accommodation versus undue hardship.
FMLA Leave Requests
If you are pregnant or have a wife or partner who is, you could request leave under the provisions of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when the baby is due. The FMLA provides workers with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave time under qualifying circumstances.
You also could request FMLA leave for serious health conditions, to care for a spouse or close relative dealing with a serious health condition, or on military deployment of a family member. If that person is a service member who has a service-related illness or injury, you could get up to 26 weeks of leave time.
FMLA leave time generally is unpaid, but some employers provide partially or maybe even fully paid leave. However, there is no legal requirement to do so. Your employer could request medical proof of the condition for which FMLA leave is sought.
Challenging Employer Denials
If you make a reasonable request for a workplace accommodation and your employer denies it, you can challenge the decision. You must handle the problem internally with your employer by requesting a review with a supervisor or owner who is in a position of authority. If you can make a strong case and successfully argue the denial was unreasonable, you might get your workplace accommodation approved.
If you still cannot get a reasonable resolution to your problem, you could file a complaint for disability discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC investigates complaints regarding workplace discrimination for a variety of reasons, including disability discrimination and refusing to approve a reasonable request for a workplace accommodation.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also might provide oversight and potential legal intervention. The NJLAD says your employer must provide reasonable accommodations that enable you to perform your essential job duties. Employers can deny requests only if they would cause undue hardships.
The New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety’s Division on Civil Rights enforces the law and investigates complaints. You could contact the Civil Rights Division and file a complaint within 180 days of the denial of your request. The division might schedule a hearing over the matter and render a decision in your favor.
When to Seek Legal Remedies?
If the EEOC investigates and confirms the employer unlawfully denied your request, you might have a claim for disability discrimination. The same goes for the Civil Rights Division in New Jersey. If those organizations investigate and affirm your employer violated the law, you could file claims for relief in federal and state courts.
The facts raised during the investigations, your complaints, and any testimony provided by your employer’s representatives could help to build a strong legal case. Federal and state actions would have to go through respective federal and state courts. However, successful claims could result in federal and state judgments in your favor.
It greatly helps to have experienced employment lawyers who compile and present your cases in the respective court systems. Both could render judgments in your favor and possibly apply punitive damages that could multiply a financial judgment.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Help to Uphold Worker Rights
If your employer is denying a reasonable work accommodation, reach out to the experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We can provide an assessment of your disability discrimination claim and explain your options for proceeding with a possible lawsuit. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and South Jersey.