The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and several other state and federal laws prohibit discrimination against an employee because of their disability (defined as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits your ability to carry out one or more major life activities; the law also protects those perceived to have such a disability and those who have a history of such a disability). You are entitled to request a reasonable accommodation from your employer if you have a qualifying disability.
Unfortunately, employers sometimes refuse valid requests for reasonable accommodations. If that happens to you, you should consider consulting a qualified employment lawyer licensed to practice in your state. This article provides some general information on next steps that you might take, but it cannot substitute for legal advice specific to your situation.
When an employee requests a reasonable accommodation for their qualifying disability, employers are generally required to work with the employee through what is called an “interactive process” to determine whether the employee can continue to perform their current job through a reasonable accommodation. An employer can also work collaboratively with a disabled employee to determine whether a similar accommodation to the one initially requested might work for both parties.
Employers do not have to eliminate what are called “essential job functions” from your job description to accommodate you, but if they can make a reasonable change to your day-to-day duties, such as assigning you to light duty, desk work, or to a job that does not otherwise implicate your disability, they should do so. That said, an employer does not have to interfere with their core operations or give up their ability to make a profit in accommodating your disability. Determinations of which accommodations are reasonable must thus be determined on a case-by-case basis.
If your employer refuses to engage with you in response to your request for a reasonable accommodation, you should document your request and the employer’s unsatisfactory response. You should consider requesting a reasonable accommodation through a written letter or email, particularly if your employer is simply ignoring your verbal requests. This paper trail will help your lawyer document your employer’s failure to take appropriate action if you decide to bring a legal action later. You might address your email or letter both to your human resources department, if you have one, and to your immediate supervisor.
After you have documented your request for a reasonable accommodation, you should consider contacting a qualified employment attorney. Your attorney will be able to give you specific legal advice on next steps after they have talked through the facts of your case with you. An experienced lawyer could help you refine your request for accommodation, shore up your paper trail, and advise you on your likelihood of success if you file an employment discrimination charge administratively or a lawsuit in the court system.
If your employer continues to avoid engaging with you to find a reasonable accommodation for your disability, or if your employer flat out denies a reasonable accommodation request that you have now requested in writing, you may want to consider filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC or your state workplace protection agency.
An employment law attorney can assist you in filing the relevant charge documents. The EEOC or state agency will likely launch an investigation after you file your charge (unless your attorney requests what is called an “immediate right to sue” notice – a tactic you can discuss with an attorney in person). The agency may then bring an enforcement action or decline to take the case and give you permission to file your case in court.
At the Law Offices of Jeremy Pasternak, we have worked with countless clients to successfully defend their rights in the workplace. If your employer has refused to provide you with reasonable accommodations for your disability, contact attorney Jeremy Pasternak at (415) 373-1296. We advocate for disabled employees’ rights throughout the San Francisco Bay area.