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Ensure Productivity: Reasonable Accommodations

Learn about a basic element of workplace inclusion. 

Some people with disabilities may need “reasonable accommodations” to perform the essential functions of a job. An accommodation is considered any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that enables a qualified person with a disability to apply for or perform a job.

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What is a reasonable accommodation?

Examples of reasonable accommodations, sometimes called “workplace accommodations,” include assistive technology, such as certain software or adaptive equipment; putting blocks of wood under desk legs to raise it for someone who uses a wheelchair; and sign language interpreters for a person who is deaf. Reasonable accommodations may include flexible work arrangements such as flextime or telework, or time off or schedule adjustments to allow an employee to attend medical or physical therapy appointments. 

How much do reasonable accommodations cost?

According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), more than half of all workplace accommodations cost nothing. Furthermore, JAN’s statistics show that most employers report financial benefits in the form of reduced insurance and training costs and increased productivity.

What can employers do to ensure they are providing accommodations for their employees who need them?

Federal laws and regulations define employers’ obligations to provide reasonable accommodations. Employers should consider the policies, procedures and administrative mechanisms they use to ensure effective and efficient implementation of reasonable accommodations. Examples include:

  1. Developing, implementing and communicating written reasonable accommodations policies.
    • Post on intranet and public website.
    • Include policies not required by federal law and regulation, such as:
      • If an employee with a known disability is having difficulty performing their job and it is reasonable to conclude that the problem is related to their disability, confidentially inquiring whether this is the case. Then, if the employee responds affirmatively, confidentially asking if they need an accommodation.
      • In addition to providing work task-related assistance as a reasonable accommodation, providing daily personal care-related assistance, often called personal assistant services (such as help using the restroom, eating or removing and putting on outerwear) during work hours.
  2. Developing, implementing and communicating written procedures for processing requests for reasonable accommodations.
    • Post procedures on intranet and public website, including posting accommodation statements on career websites.
    • Communicate procedures using an accessible format.
    • For companies using online application systems, post a notice on the human resources webpage or online application portal that notifies job applicants who may need a reasonable accommodation to perform the functions of a job that they may be entitled to one under federal and/or state law.
  3. Establishing an administrative mechanism for minimizing the cost of an accommodation being assigned to a line manager’s budget, such as a centralized funding source (sometimes referred to as a “centralized accommodation program or fund."
  4. Establishing an administrative mechanism or centralized source of expertise (appointing a specific staff member and/or establishing an office) for assessing, evaluating and providing reasonable accommodations (including assistive technology) to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of the reasonable accommodation process.
  5. Providing training for executives, managers and line staff about new strategies and devices, such as telework, flextime and assistive technologies.
  6. Ensuring that both managers and employees are aware that they may contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) to receive free confidential advice and technical assistance on workplace accommodations.
  7. Creating an online system for tracking accommodations in order to document success.
  8. Allowing line managers to authorize reasonable accommodations, with team review of denials and a requirement that all denials be signed by upper level management.
  9. Assigning a full-time director of disability services or reasonable accommodations manager to coordinate accommodations requests.