Reasonable Accommodations Frequently Asked Questions

Why does an employee have to fill out a form to request a reasonable accommodation?

The Reasonable Accommodation Request Form is used to explore possible workplace accommodations for employees who request accommodations. The purpose of the form is to record accommodations requested and the University's response, and to provide a means of reviewing such requests.

Who is eligible to receive a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against a qualified person with a disability in employment practices such as job application procedures, hiring, promotion, discharge, compensation, training, benefits, and other conditions of employment. Under the ADA, a person is considered to have a disability if: (1) he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning, or working); (2) has a record of having such an impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Accommodations are not provided for persons with a record of impairment or a person who is regarded as having an impairment; accommodations are considered for people with actual impairments that are considered disabling under ADA.

A "qualified person with a disability" is a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, is able to perform the essential functions of the position. The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities.

Are temporary conditions covered?

Temporary, non-chronic impairments of short duration, with little or no long term or permanent impact, are usually not disabilities; therefore accommodations for temporary impairments are not required under the ADA. Examples of such impairments may include, but are not limited to, broken limbs, sprained joints, concussions, appendicitis, and influenza.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. For example, a reasonable accommodation may include:
- acquiring or modifying equipment or devices,
- job restructuring,
- part-time or modified work schedules,
- adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies,
- providing readers and interpreters, and
- making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

Because the reasonableness of an accommodation involves an analysis of how the employee's condition affects his or her ability to perform the essential (as distinguished from marginal) functions of the job, the departmental unit must, as an initial step, analyze the essential functions of the position and how each function is performed; for example, does the position exist to perform a specific task, how much time is spent performing the functions that comprise the job, and what are the consequences of not performing the functions.

Who should initiate a request for reasonable accommodations?

The employee should initiate the request for an accommodation in the majority of situations.

When a qualified individual with a disability requests an accommodation, the University must make a good faith effort to provide an accommodation that is effective for the individual. Accommodations must be made on a case-by-case basis because the nature and extent of a disabling condition and the requirements of the job may vary. In many cases, an accommodation will be obvious and can be made without difficulty and at little or no cost. The department should consult with the employee as it considers the reasonableness of the requested accommodation.

How do we determine if a request is “reasonable”?

When the employee with a disability requests an accommodation to assist in the performance of a job, the departmental unit, using a problem-solving approach, should:

(1) Analyze the particular job involved and determine its purpose and essential functions (as distinguished from marginal functions);

(2) Consult with the individual with a disability to determine the precise job-related limitations imposed by the individual's disability and how those limitations could be overcome with a reasonable accommodation;

(3) In consultation with the individual to be accommodated, identify potential accommodations and assess the effectiveness each would have in enabling the individual to perform the essential functions of the position; and

(4) Consider the preference of the individual to be accommodated and select the accommodation that best serves the needs of the individual and the employer.

How do we determine the “essential functions” of a particular job?

In determining whether job functions are essential, departments should consider the following:

(A) In general. The term essential functions means the fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term “essential functions" does not include the marginal functions of the position.

(B) A job function may be considered essential for any of several reasons, including but not limited to the following:

(i) The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function;

(ii) the function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed; and/or

(iii) the function may be highly specialized so that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function.

(C) Evidence of whether a particular function is essential includes, but is not limited to:

(i) The employer's judgment as to which functions are essential;

(ii) written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing
applicants for the job;

(iii) the amount of time spent on the job performing the function;

(iv) the consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function;

(v) the terms of a collective bargaining agreement;

(vi) the work experience of past incumbents in the job; and/or

(vii) the current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.

Departments should analyze each request and make a good faith effort to provide a reasonable accommodation to an individual covered by the ADA. If the department or employee needs assistance in assessing the essential job functions they may contact an Employment Specialist at 865-1387. If the employee requesting accommodation(s) is covered by a collective bargaining agreement, departments may consult with Employee Relations at 865-1412 regarding the role of the union in relation to potential accommodations.

It is not necessary to provide a reasonable accommodation if doing so would cause an undue hardship. Undue hardship means that an accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the department or unit. If a particular accommodation would pose an undue hardship, you must try to identify another accommodation that will not pose such a hardship. In assessing whether or not an undue hardship exists, the EEOC and other enforcement agencies will look at the resources of the University as a whole, not an individual department or unit.

The ADA permits an employer to require that an individual not pose a direct threat to the health or safety of the individual or others in the workplace. A direct threat means a significant risk of substantial harm. An employer cannot refuse to hire nor can it fire an individual because the employee poses a slightly increased risk of harm to himself or herself or to others. Nor can an employer refuse to hire or decide to fire a person based on a speculative or remote risk. The determination that an individual poses a direct threat must be based on objective, factual evidence regarding the individual's present ability to perform essential job functions. If an applicant or employee with a disability poses a direct threat to his or her health or safety or to that of others, you must consider whether the risk can be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level with a reasonable accommodation.

Will an employee have to provide medical information?

In the context of assessing an accommodation request, medical documentation may be needed. Medical documentation is often needed to determine if the employee has a disability covered by the ADA and is entitled to an accommodation (i.e., has a permanent disability, as distinguished from temporary disability, that substantially limits one or more major life activities, affects the employee's ability to perform essential job functions, and is of sufficient severity) and if so, to help identify an effective accommodation.

Generally, in the context of an accommodation, medical inquiries related to an employee's disability and functional limitations are permissible and may include consultations with knowledgeable professional sources, such as doctors, occupational and physical therapists, rehabilitation specialists, and organizations with expertise in adaptations for specific disabilities. The Affirmative Action Office, in consultation with the Director of Occupational Medicine and/or the Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, is the University unit charged with coordinating the collection of medical documentation relating to requests for reasonable accommodations. If medical documentation is required, the employee will be provided with the appropriate forms to submit to their medical provider. The employee has the responsibility to ensure that the medical provider follows through on requests for medical information.

What about the confidentiality of medical information?

Because the Reasonable Accommodation Request Form may contain information that is considered of a medical nature and may constitute a medical record under the ADA, the form is to be handled confidentially and is not to be made a part of the employee's personnel file. The department head or supervisor is responsible for making sure that the Reasonable Accommodation Request Form, when completed by either the department or the employee, is forwarded to the Affirmative Action Office. Any copies of the form kept within the department must be maintained confidentially either in a separate locked file, away from the employee's personnel file, or in one to which there is restricted access. The form or information from the form should only be made available to those administrators who need to know the information in order to assess the reasonableness of the accommodation requested or to actually provide the accommodation. Only that information concerning an employee's ability to perform the essential functions of the job should be obtained and considered in determining the appropriateness of the accommodation. An employing unit may not use information obtained from an employee medical examination or inquiry to discriminate against the employee in any employment practice.

After the form is forwarded to the Affirmative Action Office, the request for accommodation will be reviewed to determine whether the department's desire to modify or deny the accommodation is reasonable before a final decision is made. If either party is dissatisfied with the decision reached by the ADA Coordinator, the dissatisfied party may appeal to the Vice Provost for Affirmative Action.

Who provides funding that might be needed for a reasonable accommodation?

The employing unit is responsible for funding the accommodation or auxiliary aids or services. Lack of resources at the unit level will not be a sufficient reason, in most instances, for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation. If the cost of providing reasonable accommodation is unusually high or otherwise will pose a financial burden on a work unit, the unit should contact the Affirmative Action Office to request funding to assist in the costs. NOTE: For reasonable accommodations that require coordination of services on an ongoing basis (for example, scheduling interpreters, real-time captioning, note-takers, etc.), it is the employee's responsibility to work with their supervisor (or a person assigned to assist them in their work unit) in a timely fashion to ensure that the appropriate services can be scheduled in advance. The work unit, not the Affirmative Action Office, is responsible for making all arrangements to set up auxiliary aids or services that are required as reasonable accommodations for employees assigned to their area.

Who can I contact for help or questions regarding requests?

If you need assistance in assessing the reasonableness of a requested accommodation, locating auxiliary aids, or have general questions about the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, please contact the Affirmative Action Office or your Human Resources Representative/Officer. For additional questions regarding aspects of accessibility having to do with buildings, parking, transportation, telecommunications, employment or access to programs please contact the Affirmative Action Office.

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Affirmative Action Office

Affirmative Action Office
328 Boucke, University Park, PA 16802
Phone: (814) 863-0471

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Web page last modified November 1, 2017