Q&A: REQUESTING REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION under the ADA

Q: Do I have to use special language in order to request accommodation?

A: No. All you’ve got to do is use “plain English” and link the need to a medical condition—for instance: “I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem;” or “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” Of course, this does not necessarily mean that your employer is required to provide the change, but it’s a first step in the process to obtain a change.

Q: Do I have to request the accommodation myself?

A: No. A family member, friend, health professional, or other representative may request a reasonable accommodation on your behalf.

Q: Does my request have to be in writing?

A: No. You may request accommodations in conversation or may use any other mode of communication.

Q: When should I request a reasonable accommodation?

A: Either during the application process or any time during the employment when you realize that there is a workplace barrier that is preventing you, as a result of your disability, from effectively competing for a position, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment.

Q: What must your employer do after receiving your request for reasonable accommodation?

A: Your employer should work with you to understand what you need and how your disability might be accommodated. Accordingly, the employer might ask you questions that might enable it to make an informed decision about your request. They also might need to do further research if the solution is not readily obvious.

Q: What if my employer asks me for documentation regarding my disability?

A: So long as 1) your disability and need for accommodation are not obvious, or 2) you have not already provided the employer with sufficient information to substantiate your disability, then they may ask for documentation from a doctor which describes the impairment; the nature, severity, and duration of the impairment; the activity or activities that the impairment limits; and the extent to which the impairment limits your ability to perform an activity or activities.  However, keep in mind that your employer cannot ask for documentation that is unrelated to determining the existence of your disability and the necessity of accommodation.

Q: May my employer require me to go to a doctor of their choosing for the purpose of documenting my need for accommodation and disability?

A: In the case that your documentation is insufficient, and your employer explains why, then your employer can pay its own doctor to determine the existence of your ADA disability and the functional limitations that require accommodation.

Q: Is my employer required to provide me the reasonable accommodation I want?

A: Not necessarily. While your preference should be given primary consideration, the employer providing the accommodation has the ultimate discretion to choose between effective accommodations. Thusly, between two effective accommodations, your employer may choose the less expensive or less burdensome one. However, your employer may not require you to accept an accommodation. But if you refuse to accept an effective accommodation, you may not be qualified to remain in the job.

Q: How quickly must my employer respond to a request for reasonable accommodation?

A: Your employer should respond as quickly as is possible. Unnecessary delays can result in a violation of the ADA. For instance, an employer provides parking for all employees. An employee who uses a wheelchair requests from his supervisor an accessible parking space, explaining that the spaces are so narrow that there is insufficient room for his van to extend the ramp that allows him to get in and out. The supervisor does not act on the request and does not forward it to someone with authority to respond. The employee makes a second request to the supervisor. Yet, two months after the initial request, nothing has been done. Although the supervisor never definitively denies the request, the lack of action under these circumstances amounts to a denial, and thus violates the ADA.


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