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Don’t ignore an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation

| Feb 9, 2021 | Firm News

Few legal requirements lead to more misunderstandings than those involving reasonable accommodations. After all, what may seem perfectly reasonable to one party may appear entirely unreasonable to someone else. While the issue is somewhat subjective, the law does provide some guidance for making reasonable accommodations. It’s also important for employers to pay requests for workplace accommodations more than mere lip service.

Common examples of reasonable accommodations

Under California law, employers of five or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for those with physical or mental disabilities. This applies to both the job application process and workplace accommodations that enable employees to perform their job functions. Some typical examples of reasonable workplace accommodations may include:

  • Adjustments to an employee’s job duties
  • Shifting work schedules
  • Providing mechanical or technological job aids
  • Relocating an employee’s workspace

The above list is by no means exhaustive. If an accommodation request is likely to result in an undue hardship to your role as an employer, you can likely deny the request. You should always seek legal advice before taking any such action.

Initiating an “interactive process”

If an employee or a job applicant requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must kick off an “interactive process.” The goal is for both parties to agree on what might be required to perform the task in question. The state offers a non-binding form that can help drive discussions and provide you with an idea of what an interactive process might entail. You should also begin an interactive process if you become aware of the need for a reasonable accommodation, even if the employee hasn’t reached out to you.

The law requires employers to handle the interactive process in good faith and engage with employees in a timely manner.

Complying with federal law may not always be enough

California law provides many workplace protections that are stricter than those found under federal law. You shouldn’t assume that just because your business is following federal guidelines that you are in line with state guidelines as well. You should discuss any concerns or potential issues with a skilled legal professional.