If you have a disability, you have the right to an accommodation (change) at work that will allow you to do your job, as long as all of the following are true:
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employer isn't required to provide an accommodation that would pose an "undue hardship" on its business, such as significant costs or other burdens. Read on to learn more about your accommodation rights under the ADA and how to negotiate an effective accommodation.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities. Discrimination includes not providing reasonable accommodations (42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)(A)).
As long as you're otherwise qualified for your job, you're entitled to a reasonable accommodation, including changes to some or all of the following:
You're entitled to an accommodation only if you're qualified for the job. And to be qualified under the ADA, you must meet all of the requirements for the position and be able to perform the job's essential functions (42 U.S.C. § 12111(8)).
You must have the fundamental qualifications for the position, such as the necessary:
For example, if you're applying for a promotion to a position that requires fluency in Spanish or an architecture license, you must have these qualifications. Otherwise, your employer has no obligation to accommodate your disability.
Essential functions are those tasks someone holding the position must absolutely be able to do, as opposed to unimportant tasks or those not central to the role. You must be able to perform the position's essential functions—with or without reasonable accommodations.
For example, carrying heavy water cooler bottles would be an essential function for someone whose job is delivering the containers to businesses. But carrying those bottles wouldn't be an essential function for someone who does office work and occasionally replaces the container on the office water cooler.
It's fine if you need an accommodation to perform an essential function, as long as you can do it with the accommodation.
Under the ADA, "reasonable accommodations" are worksite or job modifications that allow an employee with a disability to do their job (42 U.S.C. § 12111(9)). Accommodations can include:
Your disability and the type of work you do will determine what's a reasonable accommodation for you. Here are some examples of possible ADA accommodations an employer could make, depending on the circumstances:
Disabling conditions affect people differently. For example, one person might recover quickly and completely from back surgery for a ruptured disk, while another requires months of rehabilitation, work restrictions, and worksite accommodations for their back pain.
Which accommodation will be right for you will depend on your condition and the nature of your job.
If you need an accommodation, you have to ask for one. The ADA puts that burden on employees to avoid requiring employers to make assumptions or guesses about an employee's condition, disability, or needs.
Although it's not required that you request an accommodation in writing, it's a good idea. In your request for accommodations, you should include all of the following:
You can attach a note from your doctor explaining how your condition limits you and what accommodations might work. Learn more about requesting reasonable accommodations.
Once you ask for an accommodation, your employer must engage in what the law calls a "flexible, interactive process" with you—a good-faith negotiation or discussion—with you to come up with an effective accommodation (29 C.F.R. § 1630.9). Your employer doesn't have to provide the accommodation you ask for but must try to find one that will allow you to do your job.
For example, rather than remodeling a restroom near your office to accommodate your walker, your employer might offer to move you closer to an existing accessible restroom. As long as the new office will work for you, that's likely an effective accommodation—even if you prefer the view from your old space.
Your employer doesn't have to give you an accommodation that would create "undue hardship": a significant expense or burden on the business, considering the following:
For example, It might be an undue hardship for a smaller employer with a tight budget to retrofit an older office building to accommodate a wheelchair. Or it might be a hardship for a small employer to provide you with an extended leave.
Even less expensive accommodations might create undue hardship if they'd have a significantly negative effect on the company.
For example, suppose you work for a nightclub known for its extensive light displays on the dance floor. It might create an undue hardship for the company to turn those lights off—even if that would be a very effective accommodation for your migraines or seizure disorder.
If you have trouble getting your employer to provide reasonable accommodations for your disability, you should consider talking with an employment discrimination lawyer, especially if your employer does any of the following:
An employment lawyer can review the facts and let you know your rights. And if your employer acted illegally, the lawyer could step in to try and get you the help you need. If your accommodation request can't be resolved through negotiation, or you lose your job because of your request, a lawyer can represent you if you take your employer to court.
Learn more about getting the help of an employment discrimination lawyer.
Updated August 11, 2023