Feb 2 2021
“I’m afraid to request an accommodation under the ADA, because I’m afraid that my employer will treat me differently when it knows about my disability.”
This is a common question for employment lawyers, particularly from employees who have “hidden” disabilities – that is, disabilities that are not visible and/or must be disclosed to be discovered. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 to protect employees with known or perceived disabilities from discrimination or retaliation. It gives these employees the opportunity to receive reasonable accommodations in the workplace so that they may be put on a level playing field to perform their job. The ADA does not apply to an employee who does not have a disability.
Navigating the process of receiving an accommodation can be a daunting task. We hear from many people who are concerned that, if they speak up about their health needs and invoke the ADA, their employer will fundamentally change the job duties in ways that they wouldn’t want. For example, a shift worker might be afraid of losing her preferred and well-earned shifts. Or an employee with a short commute may be afraid of a transfer to a different location. Or an employee might be worried that her tasks will be changed and/or she’ll be forced to do administrative work. But there are limits to any job change: all accommodations must be reasonable.
It is important to remember that the ADA is designed to work for you, not solely for your employer. You may request an accommodation for your disability, and when you do so your employer is required to begin a good faith interactive dialogue with you to come up with an accommodation that is reasonable for you and that does not create an undue hardship on the employer. The ADA is unique in this sense, as the employer is legally obligated to work with you.
While you are not entitled to the exact accommodation of your choosing (although this happens!), remember that your request for a specific accommodation matters – the employer must consider your request in evaluating the various options for a reasonable accommodation. And if your request does not place a financial hardship on the employer or cause the workplace’s operational system to be thrown into topsy turvy, then there is good reason for your request to be granted.
Also remember that you can refuse the accommodation if you don’t like it. You are not obligated to take any accommodation that is offered to you, simply because you requested a reasonable accommodation. So, in the end of the day, you still hold power and choice in the process.
We understand that requesting an accommodation can be a difficult and sometimes lengthy process. If you want to explore your options or would like assistance in the interactive process, we are here to help.