How Should Employers Handle an Influx of Accommodation Requests?
As the pandemic subsides and employers transition employees back to the workplace and/or hybrid models, many employers are experiencing an increase in the number of accommodation requests and the increase is coming at the same time as employers set target dates for reopening offices and other workplaces.
Kristen Gallagher, Chair of the Employment & Labor Law Practice Group at McDonald Carano, shares her insights and advice in articles titled “How to Handle an Influx of Accommodation Requests” and “What If a Job Applicant Discloses a Disability?” published by the Society for Human Resource Management.
As Kristen emphasizes in the articles, employers should explain the difference between reasonable accommodation requests that are directly related to a medical condition or personal health and those that are not. The latter type of requests could include challenges relating to availability of childcare, health issues of others in the home environment or general personal concerns about working onsite or in an office setting. While all requests must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, these latter types of requests are unlikely to qualify as an ADA disability.
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, requires covered employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with a disability, unless it would cause an undue hardship to the employer. When an employer has determined that it is covered by the ADA and the employee is a qualified individual, employers are required to engage in an interactive process to: (1) determine the precise limitations created by the individual’s disability and (2) consider possible reasonable accommodations. Employers must evaluate requests for accommodation on a case-by-case basis. It is possible that the same accommodation request may be considered reasonable in one circumstance but unreasonable or unduly burdensome in another. Because there are no absolute rules about when employers must provide an accommodation, employers are often not clear about their legal obligations.
Kristen also points out that the onus for requesting reasonable accommodation generally is on the job applicant. However, an accommodation should be provided without request if the employer knows the applicant has a disability.
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