Getting a Workplace Accommodation for Back Pain and Back Problems

Learn about common workplace accommodations for back or neck pain.

By , J.D.
How old are you?

If you suffer from back or neck pain, it can be difficult to work a full day. The ADA may offer you some workplace protections by requiring your employer to provide reasonable accommodations that will allow you to do your job.

Back Pain or Neck Pain as a Disability

You have a disability under the ADA if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities. Many back and neck injuries and conditions will qualify as disabilities because they significantly affect daily tasks like sleeping, walking, pushing, pulling, lifting, sitting, standing, and so on. You don't have to be utterly unable to perform an activity to be substantially limited. If it is more painful, more difficult, or more time-consuming for you to perform an activity than it is for people in the general population, that counts as a substantial limitation. (For more information, see our article on when back and neck pain are disabilities under the ADA.)

Minor and temporary conditions don't count as disabilities. If, for example, you pull a muscle in your back, but feel fine after icing the injury and taking anti-inflammatories for a few days, you don't have a disability under the ADA.

Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA

Employees with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodations: modifications to the workplace, workspace, job, work rules, or policies that will allow them to do their work. Your employer must provide an accommodation unless it would create undue hardship. (An accommodation creates an undue hardship if it would impose significant expense or burden on the employer, considering the employer's size, resources, and structure.)

If you need a reasonable accommodation, you should ask for one. Your supervisor isn't required to guess that you have a problem. If your back pain is making it painful or difficult to sit at your desk all day, walk long distances to meetings and events, or lift boxes, for example, you should tell your manager that you have a disability and need an accommodation.

You are not legally required to make your request in writing, but it's a good idea. That way, you can make sure you have clearly communicated your needs, and you'll have a record of your request. Once you've requested an accommodation, your employer may ask for more information or documentation of your condition and how it is impacting your ability to do your job.

Your employer doesn't have to provide exactly the accommodation you request, but it must engage in a "flexible, interactive process" with you to try to come up with an accommodation that will be effective. For example, if your back pain is making it difficult to sit at your desk and use your computer, you may request a particular type of orthopedic desk chair that is very expensive. Your employer might instead suggest a series of ergonomic changes to your workstation, such as raising your screen height, adjusting your seating position, and buying you a foot rest. As long as these changes allow you to work without pain, they are an effective accommodation.

Common Accommodations for Back and Neck Pain

Back and neck pain can present in a variety of ways and cause different limitations. And, of course, the accommodations you need depend on what your job entails. Someone who does manual labor, involving heavy lifting, carrying, digging, and pulling will need different accommodations that someone with a desk job or a position that requires lots of driving, for example. Here are some accommodations that might help with particular limitations caused by back pain or neck pain:

  • Mobility problems. If walking is painful, you might request accommodations such as moving your work space to be closer to important areas you need to use, such as the restroom, meeting places, or the copy machine. You could request a parking space close to the entrance of the building where you work. If you must be mobile for your job, you could request assistive devices such as a scooter, a cart to hold supplies and belongings while you walk, and so on.
  • Difficulty with reaching, lifting, pulling, and so on. If your job requires moving heavy items, you could ask for mechanical help, such as a hydraulic lift. Or, you could have your space rearranged so heavier items are at the correct height. For example, you could have important files placed on your desk rather than in a low file drawer. For problems reaching, a variety of solutions are available to make often-used items easier to grab. Some use a lazy-susan style desk organizer to keep desktop items within reach, for example.
  • Problems sitting or standing. If you must sit at a desk all day, your employer can bring in an ergonomics consultant to make your work space more comfortable. Foot risers, ergonomic desks and chairs, changes to the placement of your computer screen and keyboard, special equipment (such as an ergonomic mouse), and other changes to your work area can be effective accommodations. If your job requires standing, your employer might provide a stool or something for you to lean on, floor mats intended to reduce fatigue, and other equipment.

You can find many more accommodation ideas at the website of the Job Accommodation Network.

Talk to a Disability Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Boost Your Chance of Being Approved

Get the Compensation You Deserve

Our experts have helped thousands like you get cash benefits.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you