What is Reasonable Accommodation?
Under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process. These modifications enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity not only to get a job, but successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.
The ADA requires reasonable accommodations as they relate to three aspects of employment: 1) ensuring equal opportunity in the application process; 2) enabling a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of a job; and 3) making it possible for an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.
Reasonable accommodations should not be viewed as “special treatment” and they often benefit all employees. For example, facility enhancements such as ramps, accessible restrooms, and ergonomic workstations benefit more than just employees with disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations include making existing facilities accessible; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; acquiring or modifying equipment; changing tests, training materials, or policies; and providing qualified readers or interpreters.
Responsibilities of ADA Coordinator or Designee
- Establish essential job functions, abilities, skills, knowledge and standards.
- Request current documentation from an employee completed by the appropriate professional source(s) to verify the need for reasonable accommodations.
- Deny a request for accommodations if the documentation demonstrates that the request is not warranted or if the individual fails to provide the appropriate documentation.
- Select among effective accommodations.
- Maintain confidentiality regarding to disability and accommodations (no discussion with co-works or colleagues, no medial records in personnel files).
- Refuse unreasonable accommodation requests that impose and undue financial burden upon the University, or that are considered “personal” in nature.
Confidentiality under the ADA
The ADA imposes higher confidentiality requirements than previous laws and restricts the degree of access to confidential medical records, histories, and information. University policy, procedures, and practice were developed in accordance with these higher confidentiality standards.
Confidential Medical Information
- Employees and applicants may be required to provide confidential medical information to allow the ADA Coordinator to: verify a disability; determine restrictions and accommodation recommendations related to performance of essential functions; verify the need for, timing of, and length of a medical leave.
- Confidential medical information may not be maintained in your UW Oshkosh personnel file.
- If an employee or applicant submits confidential medical information and documentation to you, it must be forwarded to the Director of Affirmative Action.
- All confidential medical information/documents are covered by the ADA regardless of the source.
- Employees and applicants initially submit the confidential Disability Accommodation Request Form to Equal Opportunity, Equity & Affirmative Action as part of an interactive good faith effort to identify reasonable accommodations
- The ADA Coordinator reviews the request.
- The employee’s disability and accommodations are confidential; therefore, if known, you may not disclose this information to co-workers and staff.
- If the employee or applicant discusses his/her disability or accommodations with co-workers and staff, you need to advise the employee that such disclosures compromise your ability to maintain confidentiality.
As a Manager or Supervisor, What are my responsibilities?
If an employee in your unit is having difficulty performing his or her job due to a disability or chronic medical condition, the University will need to consider whether a reasonable accommodation can be made. Reasonable accommodation is any change or modification to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that enables a qualified individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, and enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those without disabilities, without causing significant difficulty or disruption in the workplace or posing a health or safety threat.
As a supervisor it is important for you to know how to recognize and respond to a potential accommodation request and to know what to do with confidential medical information. You should consult the Office of Equal Opportunity, Equity & Affirmative Action(EOEAA), who is responsible for managing reasonable accommodations and related medical leave for the University.
Recognizing a Request:
It is important for managers/supervisors to know that there are no “magic words” required for an employee to request an accommodation. Watch for an employee making a link between having difficulties in the workplace and a disability or medical issue.
When an individual decides to request accommodation, the individual must let the employer know that they need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. An individual may use “plain English” and need not mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation”.
Example A: An employee tells their supervisor, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
Example B: An employee tells their supervisor, “I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem.” This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.
Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that their wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in their office. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.
Example D: An employee tells their supervisor that they would like a new chair because their present one is uncomfortable. Although this is a request for a change at work, the employee’s statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that they are requesting reasonable accommodation. The employee does not link their need for the new chair with a medical condition.
Example E: An employee’s spouse phones the employee’s supervisor on Monday morning to inform them that the employee had a medical emergency due to multiple sclerosis, needed to be hospitalized, and thus requires time off. This discussion constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation.
All Medical Information is Confidential:
- You cannot ask if an employee has a disability or medical condition.
- You cannot disclose that an employee has a disability or medical condition or that an employee has an accommodation.
- Any medical information (written or verbal) that you receive should go to EOEAA and should not be shared with others.
Responding to a Request:
What do supervisors/managers need to do?
- Base all employment decisions (application process, hiring, training, assignments, evaluation, promotion, discipline, and termination) on an applicant’s or employee’s qualifications and performance rather than a disability or need to accommodate.
- Consult with the ADA Coordinator before making disability related decisions.
- Follow procedures in the UW Oshkosh Reasonable Accommodation policy.
- Provide appropriate disability information (accommodation policy, procedures, and request form) to applicants/employees who need accommodations.
- Maintain confidentiality regarding the disability and accommodations (no discussion with co-workers or colleagues, no medical records in personnel files).
- Refer applicants/employees to the ADA Coordinator for information and/or assistance with reasonable accommodation procedures.
- In cooperation with EOEAA, review accommodations within your unit periodically to ensure that they are effective.
- Respond to accommodation requests in a timely manner.
As a supervisor/manager you must contact EOEAA:
- As soon as you become aware of an employee with a disability or medical condition.
- As soon as an employee requests an accommodation from you.
- Before imposing disciplinary action, up to and including termination, when there is a disability or a perceived disability.
- Whenever you recognize a significant change in an employee’s attendance, performance or behavior, or if you believe that a disability or medical condition is contributing in any way to performance, conduct, or attendance issues.
As a Manager or Supervisor, What are my rights?
Managers and Supervisors can expect employees to:
- Inform them that a disability exists when an accommodation is needed.
- Follow procedures in the UW Oshkosh disability accommodation policy.
- Meet essential performance and attendance standards once accommodations are in place.
- Provide medical verification and accommodation recommendations from a treating specialist to the ADA Coordinator when needed.
As an Employee, What are my rights?
Applicants and Employees can expect UW Oshkosh to:
- Base all employment decisions on the applicant’s or employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of a position, with or without accommodations.
- Engage in a good faith effort with the applicant or employee to identify reasonable accommodations.
- Consult with the Director of Equal Opportunity, Equity & Affirmative Action to make decisions and respond to accommodation request in a timely manner.
As an Applicant or Employee, What are my responsibilities?
- Inform Office of Equal Opportunity, Equity & Affirmative Action of the need for accommodations.
- Engage in a good faith effort with ADA Coordinator to identify reasonable accommodations.
- Submit a Reasonable_Accommodation_Request_Form to your supervisor.
- Follow procedures in the UW Oshkosh disability accommodation policy.
- Provide medical verification and accommodation recommendations from a treating specialist to ADA Coordinator when needed.
Only ADA Coordinators are authorized to request, receive and maintain confidential medical information and records on behalf of employing units.
ADA confidentiality requirements apply to medical information and records for disability, Worker’s Compensation and all medical leave.
- Meet essential performance, behavior, and attendance standards after reasonable accommodations are provided.
- Review accommodations periodically to ensure that they are effective.