What Is a Failure to Accommodate Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

woman in wheelchair sitting at conference table

Definition of Reasonable Accommodation

Essentially, this refers to any modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that enables a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job but to perform it and to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

The scope of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is broad, including but not limited to physical changes to the workplace, job restructuring, modified work schedules, or the provision of specialized equipment.

Legal Obligations for Employers

Employers nationwide have a legal mandate to provide reasonable accommodations under the ADA, a federal law. Many state laws, like the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), similarly require such accommodations. These laws require that employers must be proactive in recognizing the need for accommodations and must also consider the preferences of the individual with a disability. It's not enough to simply acknowledge the need; employers must also implement the accommodations effectively. Failure to do so can lead to legal consequences, including litigation and financial penalties, which underscores the importance of understanding and adhering to these legal obligations.

Identifying Failure to Accommodate

Examples of Accommodation Denial

Identifying a failure to accommodate can be nuanced, as it often hinges on the specific circumstances of each case. Examples of accommodation denial may include refusing to modify a work schedule for an employee with a chronic medical condition that requires a different sleep pattern or not providing assistive technology for an employee with a visual impairment. Other times, it might be less overt, such as an employer not making efforts to explore different accommodation options or disregarding an employee's request without adequate justification. These instances not only hinder an employee's ability to perform their job but also signal a company's non-compliance with the ADA and its state law counterparts.

Assessing Employer's Efforts to Accommodate

The assessment of an employer's effort to accommodate is not merely about whether an accommodation was made but also the quality and appropriateness of the actions taken. The ADA requires that employers engage in a flexible, interactive process with the employee in need of accommodations. This involves a dialogue between the employer and the employee to identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations. An employer's effort is deemed sufficient when they have genuinely considered the employee's request and have offered an effective accommodation unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the operation of the business.

Rights and Recourse for Affected Employees

Steps to Take After a Denied Accommodation

For employees who are denied accommodation, it's important to know the steps to protect their rights. Initially, the employee may attempt to resolve the issue internally by speaking with a supervisor or human resources representative. Documentation is critical; keeping detailed records of accommodation requests and the employer's response can be invaluable. A next step may involve seeking external assistance if internal resolution proves unsuccessful. This could include consulting with an employment law attorney to understand the legal options available.

Legal Remedies and Complaint Filing

Legal remedies are available if an employee's accommodation has been unfairly denied. One of the first steps is to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that enforces the ADA, or an agency that enforces state anti-discrimination laws, such as the California Civil Rights Department (CRD). The administrative agency will investigate the complaint and determine whether there is enough evidence to support a claim of discrimination. If so, they may mediate a settlement or, in some cases, bring a lawsuit on behalf of the employee. Additionally, employees have the right to file a private lawsuit after first filing an administrative complaint and obtaining a right-to-sue letter from the administrative agency. However, it's important to note that there are specific time frames within which a complaint must be filed, so taking timely action is critical.

For those seeking guidance on employment law and reasonable accommodations, Hadsell Stormer Renick & Dai LLP offers comprehensive legal services. Our team is dedicated to ensuring that your rights are protected and that employers uphold their obligations under the law.

If you believe an employer has failed to or will not accommodate your disability, contact us today to learn how we can assist you.

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