Your Right to a Reasonable Accommodation for Your Disability

Your employer must make accommodations for your disability so you can do your job, as long as they don't create undue hardship.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 8/11/2023

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:

  • you're qualified to perform the essential functions of your job
  • you work for a covered employer (one with 15 or more employees), and
  • the accommodation is reasonable for your employer to provide.

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.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA?

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:

  • your workplace
  • your workspace
  • your employer's work rules
  • your schedule, or
  • other policies that will allow you to perform your job.

Who Is a Qualified Person With a Disability Under the ADA?

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)).

Meeting All Job Requirements

You must have the fundamental qualifications for the position, such as the necessary:

  • education
  • licensing
  • language skills
  • job skills, and
  • experience.

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.

Performing the Job's Essential Functions

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.

What Are Possible Accommodations Under the ADA?

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:

  • changes to the physical structure of your workspace
  • changes to your job or work schedule
  • exceptions to usual work policies or rules, or
  • other changes that will allow you to do your job.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

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:

  • If you have cancer, you might need time off work for treatment and the flexibility to work from home or work shorter hours when you're not feeling well.
  • If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, you might need voice-activated software and an ergonomic mouse and desk setup.
  • If you have a cognitive impairment like attention deficit disorder, you might need permission to use noise-canceling headphones and to receive written assignments, with clear deadlines, from your supervisor.
  • If you have depression or anxiety, you might need time off to see a therapist once a week during work hours.
  • If you use a wheelchair, you might need a desktop lowered, a closer parking space, or a restroom stall that's wide enough to accommodate your chair.

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.

How to Get a Reasonable Accommodation

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.

Asking for a Job Accommodation

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:

  • information on your disability
  • the tasks you're having trouble with, and
  • accommodations that might help.

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.

Negotiating Reasonable Accommodations With Your Employer

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.

When Providing an Accommodation Would Be an Undue Hardship

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:

  • the size of the company
  • the company's resources, and
  • the structure or nature of the business.

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.

Get Help Enforcing Your ADA Rights at Work

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.

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