Reasonable Accommodations: Real-Life Examples & Best Practices

By Jenny Barnes on May 21, 2024
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When it comes to analyzing employee disability rights and offering reasonable accommodations, businesses today are in a unique environment. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that a greater percentage of individuals with disabilities (22.4%) are now employed than at any other time since data on the topic has been collected. This is fantastic news for the working disabled population, and with a little help from their employers, the record high can continue to rise.  

Reasonable accommodations help employees with disabilities access and succeed in their jobs. But what exactly are reasonable accommodations, and how can small businesses offer them? In this article, I’ll explain the basics of what you need to know about the concept. 

RELATED: What Penalties Can Result from ADA Violations - A Guide >>

A Primer on ADA Workplace Compliance for Small Businesses

As background: under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”), private employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. In most cases, if a job applicant or employee with a disability can fulfill the duties of their role, employers must work with them to help them succeed—via the provision of “reasonable accommodations” that are specific to the employee, the business, and each party’s needs.  

Making sense of the web of requirements under the ADA can be tricky. Often, the process of arriving at the “right answer” in each case is incredibly fact-intensive. It’s typically helpful to see real-life reasonable accommodation examples, so I’ll provide those as we deconstruct this topic together.  

ADA interactive process

What is a Disability under the ADA?  

Under the ADA, an employee has a “disability” if they have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” 

Individuals protected by the ADA also include those who have histories or records of disabilities (i.e., someone with cancer that is now in remission) and those who are perceived to have disabilities (i.e., someone with severe burns).  

Current Employees with Disabilities

Current employees with disabilities are protected from discrimination under the ADA. If a disability arises, becomes evident, or causes complications during an employee’s tenure, employers must explore reasonable accommodations that could be implemented to allow the employee to continue to do their job comfortably to the same extent as other employees who do not have a disability.  

RELATED: ADA Compliance - The Rise of Surf-By Lawsuits >>

Job Applicants with Disabilities

Job applicants with disabilities are also protected from discrimination under the ADA. Suppose an employee is qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. In that case, employers may not disqualify them for a job based on their disability.  

In other words, if an applicant for a job satisfies the role’s requirements (i.e., in terms of skills, experience, or education) and can fulfill the job’s duties–even if they need a reasonable accommodation to do so—employers should not hold their disability against them when considering their candidacy. 

Employers also may need to offer reasonable accommodations during the hiring process to allow applicants with disabilities a fair chance at applying for a role. 

Hiring Employees with Disabilities

What Are Reasonable Accommodations? 

As mentioned, employers must explore reasonable accommodations when an employee or potential new hire has a disability. The United States Department of Labor defines a reasonable accommodation as a “modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process.”  

An accommodation is “reasonable” if it does not require the employer to go through significant difficulties or expenses to implement it. There may be several accommodations that are reasonable for a specific employee. Whether an accommodation is reasonable will often be unique to an employer’s industry, location, employee headcount, capital resources, and other specifications. It’s always best to consult with experienced HR compliance experts if you have questions about the right call to make.   

RELATED: The Ultimate ADA Guide -Small Business Edition >>

Real-Life Reasonable Accommodation Examples

Sometimes, employees with disabilities know exactly what kind of modifications or adjustments they need to get their job done, and are happy to provide examples of accommodations that an employer can consider. In other circumstances, the employer and employee may need to collaborate on set of options together. Note that if the first reasonable accommodation you try together doesn’t work for you both, you should continue to explore other options to the extent that it is feasible for your business.  

Here are real-life reasonable accommodation examples to consider:  

An employee with a mental health disability asks to have their service dog present.

In this circumstance, the employer should consider whether it is feasible to have the service dog present in the workplace. If other employees have pet allergies, the employer should explore offering the employee with the service animal and the employee with allergies a degree of physical separation.  

A blind employee needs to travel as part of their job.

The employer should consider whether they are able to provide the blind employee with access to a travel companion who can guide the employee as they are traveling.  

An employee has a mobility-related disability and wouldn’t be able to evacuate the workplace in the requisite time during an emergency.

The employer should explore the development of an effective modification to the evacuation procedure for the disabled employee.  

An employee who uses a wheelchair needs to take a training course offered at a location without an accessible bathroom.

The employer should explore alternative options for the employee, including installing an accessible bathroom at the training location, hosting the training at another location, hosting the training remotely, or allowing the employee to gain the skills from the training in another way.  

An employee with a disability requires them to take frequent breaks from working.

This employee may be offered a reasonable accommodation such as a modified schedule, flexible working hours, or an option to work from home.  

An applicant who is well-qualified for an open position is deaf.

This applicant may require a sign language interpreter to accompany them at their job interview for an open role, access to braille materials, or another reasonable accommodation.  

RELATED: The Ultimate ADA Checklist for Small Business Accessibility >>

HR Compliance for an ADA Workplace: Meet Axcet HR Solutions 

Need a hand understanding your ADA workplace obligations? You don’t need to tackle reasonable accommodations analyses, workplace disability and safety concerns, or other HR compliance matters alone. Axcet HR Solutions is a certified professional employer organization (PEO) that takes the time to understand your unique business, its employees, and your HR needs.  

When you have Axcet on your side to handle the HR details, you can focus on growing and scaling your core business. Interested in learning more about Axcet can help? Schedule a consultation with our experts today. 

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Written by Jenny Barnes

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