By Tom Coursey
How does the Department of Labor define reasonable accommodations?
“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 tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.
The ADA requires reasonable accommodations for 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.”
Covid’s silver lining
I work from home every day. I didn’t always. I am one of the fortunate few who made a reasonable accommodation request that my employer could not refuse. A lot of things needed to become aligned in the universe for my specific situation to have this outcome.
I started this position February 2020 – the month COVID hit the United States. In the beginning, I worked onsite daily in a rigorous training program. Mid-March 2020, my team received laptops. Like many in the workforce, my employer sent us home “temporarily.”
Then, two weeks turned into two months; two months turned into two years. The pandemic concerns eased. Many employers, including my own, demanded staff return to their offices. Returning to the office created a bit of anxiety for me.
Like many neurodiverse friends and colleagues, I am quite introverted. I need quiet surroundings in which to work. I work at a furious pace, taking breaks when I need them. I don’t appreciate office chit-chat; it exhausts me.
I also like to control the temperature. My day is better at home because I work side-by-side with my partner. Realizing I would lose this environment, my mind began to problem solve immediately as I am sure many of my neurodivergent peers did.
About this same time, my employer broadcasted potential return to the office dates while informing us that if we had COVID concerns, temporary accommodations could be made. High risk employees could work from home until the threat of Covid disappeared. Great! But, the COVID accommodation was temporary. I wanted to explore a way to make that stay-at-home accommodation permanent so I began my research.
Working as a manager for previous employers, I knew to be quiet and careful as I explored reasonable accommodations. You never want someone else speaking on your behalf. I would take agency over my career and my voice at work. I also did not share my thoughts with coworkers. I needed to do the speaking for my request to management.
First, I reviewed our human resources website. Luckily, my employer had every detail of the process of reasonable accommodation published. Next, I discovered that a central human resources team received the employee request and then worked with that employee to develop the supporting documentation needed to submit a viable request.
Once the request was submitted, this HR team would share the accommodation request with the chain of command. Important: This team keeps the supporting evidence private. My medical condition is not shared, only my need for the accommodation is provided to my supervisors.
Next, a meeting is held with the employee and the management representative to see if “reasonableness” could be achieved between the two parties.
Something you will not likely find published is a list of accommodations. There is good reason for this. What is reasonable and necessary for your situation may not be reasonable and necessary for my situation. Example: William is blind. It would be reasonable and necessary for William to request software that reads text to him. I am not blind. It would be unreasonable for me to request the same accommodation as William. We are differently abled.
My reasonable accommodation request included working from home. You may have the same or a different request based on what hinders you from doing the best job you’d like to do. Give some thought to what will might be reasonable.
As an example, requesting a private office might reduce the noise and distraction in your workplace. Thus, if you work in a cubicle, it may not be financially viable for the company to build you an office. However, it might be possible to request remote work. If there is work you can do on a portable computer and your productivity can be measured accurately, this may be reasonable. If you paint cars, it is unlikely that your employer will set up a shop in your driveway so you can work from home.
Making your place of work work for you
In my situation, I was lucky. I had been working from home for two years and am performing well. Note: performance is not a factor in these decisions. This is about providing employees a chance to “successfully perform their job tasks to the same extent as people without disabilities.” I reached out to the central HR representative and let her know I was requesting an accommodation.
I am a 100% disabled, service-connected veteran. I itemized the conditions that supported my request and went to see my general practitioner. I was surprised that my physician would give so much push back to signing my forms. I had miscalculated her support. After an in-person discussion and several assurances from me that I was not trying to defraud my employer, she ultimately signed my forms. In hindsight, I should have better prepared my physician to support me in this endeavor.
I submitted my forms and waited. The wheels of organizations turn slowly. HR had 30 days to respond to my request. On day 31, I called. I spoke to a severely overworked and under-supported employee who let me know she was aware of my request and would get to it when it was my turn.
A few weeks later I received a call from a local higher-level manager requesting a meeting to discuss my reasonable accommodation request. He was quite cordial but I believe he was fishing for more information on my disability before he wanted to grant my request.
It was improper for him to ask directly about my disabilities, and he did not. He offered up some of his conditions. I remained tight lipped, said lots of “uh-huhs,’ and let him talk.
Ultimately, I agreed to come into the office for events that required my presence. I still can’t think of one situation that would necessitate my appearance except maybe my firing. So, I will be especially wary of that request if it ever comes. I also agreed to remain geographically anchored, meaning I must reside within the commuting area of my office.
I believe this process was was well managed and meets my needs. If you would like to talk about my experience or need assistance with yours, feel free to contact me for a free coaching session. I am hopeful that you will also enjoy a similar success.