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What are reasonable workplace accommodations for a disability?

A short time ago, an employee was found drinking a store beverage to help control her diabetes, it was her intention to pay for it after her blood sugar normalized. She was fired - but she filed a claim against her employer and now the employer has to pay for not making a reasonable accommodation for this employee with diabetes.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took this case against Dollar General and was joined by the fired employee in the lawsuit. The employer was ordered to pay over $27,000 in back pay to the employee and an additional $250,000 in punitive damages. An interesting fact, in this case, is that Dollar General's written policy allowed for the employee's action, it was the store manager who failed to follow policy and cost Dollar General much in money and reputation.

Reasonable accommodations are mandated by the American With Disabilities Act (ADA). This act bars discrimination against disabled employees who are qualified for a position. Further, the act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. For the purposes of the ADA, a disability is,

"...a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability."

What Is A Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodation means that the employer has made changes in its processes, facility, and work environment that allows for a qualified employee to enjoy the benefits and privileges enjoyed by employees who don't have disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • Providing or modifying equipment or devices
  • Job restructuring
  • Part-time or modified work schedules
  • Reassignment to a vacant position
  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
  • Providing readers and interpreters
  • Making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

Under the ADA an employer must make reasonable accommodations for qualified applicants or employees unless the employer can show that a certain accommodation(s) is an undue hardship as the accommodation is too costly or too difficult.

What Choices Do I Have If My Employer Won't Make A Reasonable Accommodation For Me?

There are exceptions to requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations that include:

  • Eliminate essential functions or redefine the position
  • Bump other employees from their positions
  • Create a new position
  • Lower production standards, qualitatively or quantitatively
  • Are an undue hardship on the employer

If your employer won't make a reasonable accommodation for your disability you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint must be filed within six months of the date of the violation. If the EEOC cannot resolve the case they will send you a "right to sue" letter.

If you get a right to sue letter, contact an experienced employment discrimination attorney. Often, disabled employees contact a labor attorney before filing the case; these employees often find their cases are more quickly resolved, often without having to wait for an EEOC decision. Employees only have 90 days from the EEOC "right to sue" letter to file a lawsuit.

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