Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

employee with a disability

Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employee with a disability may request an accommodation in order to perform the essential functions of his or her job. The ADA and NJLAD require an employer to make reasonable accommodations in order to enable qualified individuals with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job. One of the goals of these statutes is to make it possible for an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment. A reasonable accommodation can also be a defined leave of absence, a modified work schedule, reassignment to a vacant position, or reducing hours from full-time to part-time. A leave of absence for medical treatment may constitute a reasonable accommodation. Work environment accommodations may include ramps, accessible restrooms, and ergonomic workstations. Reasonable accommodations may also include acquiring or modifying work equipment. Under certain circumstances, an accommodation that is unreasonable if employed on a permanent basis may nevertheless be deemed to be reasonable if the disabled employee only requires the accommodation on a temporary basis. Equipment modifications may enable employees with a disability to successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as employees without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are sometimes referenced as “productivity enhancers.”

When an individual with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation, it is not necessary to use the words, “reasonable accommodation.” Courts have held that there are “no magic words” that an individual with a disability must use when seeking an employment-related reasonable accommodation. Instead, the employee must make it clear that he or she is requesting assistance with the disability. When an employee makes a request for an accommodation, the employer cannot merely dismiss that request out of hand as being unreasonable. Once the employer knows of the employee’s disability and the employee's desire for an accommodation, the employer must make a reasonable effort to determine the appropriate accommodation.

When an employer has failed to provide the disabled employee with a reasonable accommodation, the employee must establish these elements: (1) the employee had a disability; (2) the employee was able to perform the essential functions of the job with an accommodation; (3) the employer was aware of the employee’s need for an accommodation; and (4) the employer failed to provide a reasonable accommodation.

The employer has the burden of proving that the accommodations requested by the disabled employee was unreasonable, or would have caused an undue hardship on the employer. An "undue hardship" is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense. That is the accommodation must have a significant impact on the employer’s expenses and resources, or the accommodation sought must have a significant impact on the employer’s operation of the facility.

When requesting a reasonable accommodation, it is recommended that the employee make the request in writing. It is very useful to create a paper trail when requesting an accommodation, in the event that the employer disputes when or whether an accommodation was requested. The employee should also identify the accommodation that he or she is seeking. If your employer has denied a reasonable accommodation request that you have made, failed to respond to your request for a reasonable accommodation, or retaliated against you for having sought a reasonable accommodation, call the experienced attorneys at the Law Firm of Morgan Rooks PC.
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