Workplace Accessibility: Reasonable Accommodations

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

A “reasonable accommodation” is any adjustment or change to the application/hiring process, the job itself, the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability – who is qualified for the job – to perform the necessary and essential functions of that job. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they do not create an undue hardship on the employer or pose a direct threat.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

Although each employee (or potential employee) should be evaluated individually regarding accommodation requests, listed below are several accommodations that would be considered reasonable:

Text reading reasonable accommodations and symbols of a person in a wheelchair, hands performing sign language, a person using a white cane, and an outline of a person's head showing their brain

  • Modifying the physical layout of a workspace to accommodate a mobility impaired employee, who perhaps utilizes a wheelchair or other mobility aid
  • Providing a low-vision or blind employee with screen reader software
  • Allowing service animals in business settings where animals would normally be prohibited
  • Adjusting the employee’s work schedule to allow the employee to attend medical appointments, and complete their work at alternate times or locations
  • Ensuring company broadcasts which the employee may view has captions

Why are Reasonable Accommodations so Important?

Quite simply, a reasonable accommodation may be the difference between a qualified person with a disability being able to perform their job or not. This could have financial implications for that person, causing stress and emotional heartaches with the feeling of not being able to compete in the workplace the same as peers without disabilities.

A Real-Life Failure to Reasonably Accommodate a Person with a Disability

Recently, a legal case was decided in favor of the plaintiff, a person with Down Syndrome, whose work schedule was changed after many years causing difficulty arriving to work on time, leading to her dismissal from the company she worked for.

From the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Newsroom:

“CHICAGO – An eight-member jury in Green Bay, Wisconsin returned a verdict of $125,150,000 in favor of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on three claims of disability discrimination against Walmart, the federal agency announced today. The jury found that the retailer failed to accommodate Marlo Spaeth, a longtime employee with Down syndrome, and then fired her in July 2015 because of her disability. The EEOC presented evidence that a change Walmart made to Spaeth’s longstanding work schedule caused her significant difficulty. When she requested her start and end times be adjusted by 60 to 90 minutes and to be returned to her prior schedule, Walmart failed to act on the request and instead fired her.
Spaeth had worked for the company for approximately 16 years and had consistently received positive performance evaluations from her managers, according to evidence presented at trial. The jury also found that Walmart turned down Spaeth’s later request to be rehired because of her disability or because of their need to accommodate her disability.”

The accommodation requested (altering the employee’s schedule to what it had been previously) did not constitute an undue burden for the company, nor did it pose a direct threat to other employees or customers. As such, it was a reasonable accommodation that should have been made but was not. Due to the lack of implementation of this reasonable accommodation, the employee was late to work consistently and was fired for this reason.

Although the verdict will be reduced to $300,000 – the maximum allowable under federal law for companies with more than 500 employees – the statement made by the jury is a strong one. Egregious violations of the ADA with regard to employment are unacceptable.

Further Reading About This Case

Further information regarding the case “EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East LP, E.D. Wis., No. 1:17-cv-00070”:

Additional Information About Reasonable Accommodations

LI Tech Advisors can help your company identify reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis and educate your team on all aspects of accessibility.