Since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, accommodations to make public buildings accessible to customers and employees with disabilities have become standard. You would be more surprised to see an office building that did not have a wheelchair ramp than one that had one, and the same goes for Braille labels on elevator buttons. Most parking lots have the closest spaces reserved for people with disabilities, and most televisions have an option for closed captioning. There are more kinds of legally recognized disabilities than these one size fits all accommodations can cover. Many workers require individualized accommodations beyond these generally mandated accessibility requirements in order to do their jobs. Every employee’s health history is unique, as are every employee’s needs. If some aspects of your work environment present special challenges for you because of a chronic health condition for which you have a documented diagnosis, your employer must make reasonable accommodations for you, but some employers make the process difficult for employees. The Houston disability and reasonable accommodations lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, can help you request and receive reasonable accommodations at work.
What is a Disability?
In the context of employment law, a disability is any long-term health condition that presents challenges with regard to one or more activities of daily life. Disabilities can be temporary or permanent, and they may or not be immediately noticeable to people other than the person with the disability. The following is a partial list of conditions that have been recognized as disabilities and for which employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations:
- Blindness or visual impairment
- Deafness or hearing impairment
- Hypersensitivity to light or noise
- Mobility impairments, requiring the use of a cane, walker, wheelchair, or mobility scooter
- Chronic pain, headaches, or nausea
- Chronic fatigue
- Clinical depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder
The cause of the disability is not what matters in the context of employment law. Medical privacy laws prohibit your employer from asking about the diagnosis that requires you to need the accommodation. For example, impaired mobility could be due to a traumatic injury, an autoimmune disease, or cancer, among other causes, and it is none of your employer’s business how your disability arose.
In order to receive accommodations for a disability, you must, however, provide documentation from a doctor who has treated you for the condition that causes you to need the accommodation. Your doctor’s letter must, however, provide specific details about the kinds of accommodations you require.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation?
An accommodation is a change that the employer makes to the work environment or your work schedule so that your disability does not prevent you from performing your work tasks. These are some examples of accommodations that employers often provide upon request:
- Text-to-speech software on company computers and mobile devices
- Wheelchair-accessible desks
- Chairs or stools so that a cashier with a disability can sit at the cash register, even though most cashiers stand
- Sign language interpreters at meetings
- More frequent breaks for employees who need to rest or take medication
- Work schedules to accommodate doctor visits or the availability of public transportation for people with disabilities
A reasonable accommodation is one without which you cannot do your job; in other words, it is a necessary accommodation, and not merely a convenience or a special privilege. The accommodation should not cause an excessive financial burden on your employer. Your employer’s budget to provide disability accommodations will vary according to the size of the company; an accommodation that would be reasonable for a large corporation to provide might be considered unfairly burdensome for a small business with only six employees.
Can Your Employer Refuse to Make Accommodations?
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. In other words, disability is a protected characteristic, just like race, religion, sex, age, and family status. Instances of illegal discrimination include refusal to hire, denial of promotions and raises, demotion or undesired transfer to a different role within the organization, harassment, and unjustified termination of employment. In the context of disability discrimination, refusal to provide an accommodation, effectively forcing the employee to perform poorly at work or resign, counts as discrimination.
According to federal and state employment laws, requesting an accommodation for a disability is a protected activity. This means that your employer cannot punish you in retaliation for requesting the accommodation by firing you or taking another discriminatory action against you. Other examples of protected activities include filing workers’ compensation claims, notifying authorities of safety violations or criminal activity in the workplace, and complaining to human resources or to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) about discrimination. If your employer fires you as soon as you present the letter requesting disability accommodations, it is a clear case of discrimination.
Receiving reasonable accommodations for your disability at work is a legal right. Not only do current employees have a right to disability accommodations while they are working, but job applicants also have the right to receive the same accommodations as they would need if they were hired. Prospective employers should provide accommodations to job applicants upon request during the interview and training process, provided that the applicants present the required documentation.
Meanwhile, it might be more difficult or more costly than you think for your employer to provide the accommodation that you are requesting. Therefore, the employer and the employee should negotiate until they reach an agreement about an accommodation that would meet the employee’s needs and enable him or her to perform the essential functions of the job without being too costly for the employer. An employment discrimination lawyer can help you navigate the process of negotiating with your employer about reasonable accommodations or resolving disputes related to your request for accommodations.
Contact HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP, About Disability Discrimination
The Houston employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys, LLP can help you if your employer refused to provide disability accommodations for you or retaliated against you when you requested accommodations. Contact the employment lawyers at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP in Houston, Texas, to set up a consultation.