How to Request a Workplace Accommodation

Three Parts:Assessing Your SituationCommunicating With Your EmployerFollowing Up

If you are a disabled worker, you may need a workplace accommodation in order to perform the essential duties of your job. If your requested accommodation is reasonable and does not pose an undue hardship on your employer, then your employer may be required by law to accommodate you. The process of requesting a workplace accommodation can be as simple has having a conversation with your boss.

Part 1
Assessing Your Situation

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    Know the basics. Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination in their employment.[1] Under the ADA, most employers are required to make "reasonable accommodations" for disabled employees. Failing to do so is a violation of the law. If your situation meets the requirements of the law, then you are entitled to a reasonable accommodation.
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    Verify that your employer is subject to the ADA guidelines. Title I of the ADA applies to "covered entities," which are private employers with 15 or more employees, plus employment agencies, labor organizations, joint labor-management committees, and state and local governments.[2] Thus, as long as your employer is not a private entity with fewer than 15 employees, then you are probably entitled to an accommodation.
    • Federal agencies are exempt from the ADA, but must comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is nearly identical to the ADA.[3]
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    Verify that you are disabled under the law. Being disabled, under the ADA, means that you have a mental or physical impairment that "substantially limits" your ability to perform a "major life activity."[4] Note that you still must be able to perform the essential functions of your job with the help of a reasonable accommodation.
    • Major life activities include manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and major bodily functions (such as organ function, etc.).[5]
    • "Substantially limits" means that your mental or physical impairment impedes your ability to perform a major life activity compared to the general public.[6]
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    Make sure that your requested accommodation is reasonable. An accommodation is a change in the work environment or process that gives a disabled person equal employment opportunities. An accommodation is unreasonable if it causes an undue hardship to your employer, such as financial difficulty, disruption, or a fundamental change of the nature or operation of the business.
    • Reasonable accommodations include: making job facilities accessible, changing your work schedule, medical leave, and acquiring or modifying work equipment.
    • Unreasonable requests include: removing or eliminating an essential job function, lowering production standards, and providing a hearing aid or other device that you would need to use outside of work.[7]

Part 2
Communicating With Your Employer

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    Decide how to make your request. Making a request for a workplace accommodation can be as simple as having a quick conversation in plain English. You don't need to use special language or mention the ADA.[8] For example, "I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem" or "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing" is sufficient.[9] Just be clear with your employer that your request is related to a medical condition.
    • You do not need to put your request in writing, but it may be a good idea to do so, whether by memo, email, or letter. If there is ever a dispute about whether or when you made your request, having your request in a dated writing will be helpful.[10] You can find a sample letter here.
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    Provide some information about your disability. Your employer is not required to make a workplace accommodation unless he or she is aware that you have a disability. Thus, if you say, "I need a new chair because my current chair is uncomfortable," your employer is not required to make an accommodation because you did not connect your discomfort to a disability.[11] Let your employer know that you are requesting an accommodation because of your disability, and provide any supporting medical information that you are comfortable sharing.
    • Some employers may not require additional information from you, but others might ask for medical details and/or supporting documentation. Your employer does have a right to request additional medical information, and can deny your request if you fail to provide it.[12] Ask your health care provider to prepare some documentation of your disability for your employer.[13]
    • You have no obligation to inform your employer of your disability at the time you are hired, or any time prior to your request for a workplace accommodation. Your decision not to disclose your disability to your employer earlier does not impact your right to a reasonable accommodation.
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    Discuss accommodations and solutions. Your employer is legally obligated to work with you to come up with a reasonable accommodation. Take the initiative and propose a solution, or more than one, if you can. Your employer is not required to make the exact accommodation to request if an alternative is possible. Whatever solution you agree upon, put it into writing and sign and date it with your employer.[14]
    • For example, if you use a wheelchair, but the wheelchair does not fit under your desk, a reasonable accommodation might include getting a larger desk. Alternatively, it might be possible to safely modify your current desk to make it taller. It may take more than one meeting or even more than one attempt at a solution to find an accommodation that meets your needs and those of your employer.

Part 3
Following Up

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    Request additional accommodations in the future, if necessary. There is no time limit on making requests for workplace accommodations. You do not have to make them right when you start your job, and you can make new requests later. If you develop a new disability, if your condition changes, or if your requested accommodation did not work out as expected, continue to have a dialogue with your employer, and make a new request if necessary.
    • For instance, you might say, "I appreciate the company's efforts to accommodate my disability. Unfortunately, my new wheelchair is a bit larger than my old one, and my desk needs to be modified again. I can provide the dimensions of my new chair whenever it's convenient for you."
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    Go up the chain of command. If your boss refuses your request or stalls, speak with your boss's boss or your Human Resources department. The law places the burden on employers to respond to accommodation requests, but by taking the initiative to voice your request up the chain of command, you will hopefully be able to resolve the issue without having to take legal action.
    • Similarly, the law does not require you to educate your employer about the law. But if you are comfortable with doing so, and your employer seems open to continuing the conversation, you might suggest that your employer consult Title I of the ADA to review employers' responsibilities.
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    Responding to a refusal. If your employer refuses to make a workplace accommodation, or fails to follow through in a reasonable time, then he or she may have violated Title I of the ADA. You should contact an experienced disability discrimination attorney.[15] An attorney can advise you of your rights and communicate with your employer on your behalf. If it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit, you may be required to file a notice with your state's anti-discrimination enforcement agency and obtain a "right-to-sue" authorization from the agency.[16]
    • You can get attorney referrals from friends and family, or from attorneys who do not practice employment law but know a trusted colleague who does. You can also use referral services through your state and local bar associations, or just search online. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, other options are available. Your community may have legal aid organizations that provide free or low-cost legal services to the community. You can find these organizations by searching online or contacting the court.
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    Responding to retaliation. Unfortunately, some employers retaliate against workers in order to punish or discourage requests for workplace accommodations. If you are fired, have your salary reduced, or get reassigned shortly after you make your request for an accommodation, your employer may be retaliating against you.[17]. Retaliation can take other forms as well, like demands for additional proof of your disability after you have already provided sufficient documentation.[18]
    • If you believe your employer has retaliated against you, keep copies of all notices, communication, and other paperwork related to the retaliation. Then contact an experienced disability discrimination attorney.


  • This article is intended as legal information and does not provide legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.

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Categories: Disability Issues | Job Search