The California Fair Employment and Housing Act requires employers with 5 employees or more to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with physical or mental disabilities to enable them to apply for jobs or to perform essential functions of their job. As always, it is recommended you seek the help of an attorney for your specific situation. Our labor relations law firm helps countless clients to secure the job accommodations they need – here are a few general facts about workplace accommodations in California.
What Constitutes a ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ in the Workplace?
Reasonable accommodations can include changes to an employee’s job duties, work schedule, a relocation of the work area, the addition of mechanical or electrical job aids as well as providing leave for medical care. Other examples of reasonable workplace accommodations are an employee or job applicant requesting an ASL interpreter for their interview or to enable them to fully participate in a company meeting, seminar, or other events.
An employer is required to provide workplace accommodations regardless of whether the person requesting it already receives some form of accommodation, has received one in the past, or did not request one at the time they began working for that employer. It is always best for employees to work together with their employers when determining the most appropriate options for putting reasonable accommodations in place.
Are There Certain Types of Accommodations my Employer is not Required to Provide?
There is an exception to the rule set forth by the California DFEH (Department of Fair Employment and Housing). An employee cannot expect their employer to accept a request for a workplace accommodation that causes the employer undue hardship or that would not have a direct effect in enabling the employee to perform their essential job functions.
Examples of unreasonable workplace accommodations may include changes in the essential job duties of an employee that would require the employer to hire an additional worker to share the job, or that may result in a fellow worker being displaced from their position. Other changes that may cause the employer to have to lower production standards or excuse violations of conduct rules may also be considered unreasonable.
In most cases, both employers and employees should undergo an interactive process with open communication to find a set of workplace accommodations that would be feasible for both sides. An employee cannot expect their employer to accept accommodation requests that entail requirements such as creating a job position that does not exist in the company, providing an indefinite leave of absence, or granting a promotion, for example.
What are the Steps to Requesting Workplace Accommodations in California?
If you need to request a workplace accommodation, it is best to follow company policy and document your request in writing. Some companies may require you to fill out a specific form, while others may allow you to simply make a verbal request to the person in charge of workplace accommodations. The exact steps will vary depending on the size of your company.
Generally speaking, you may want to include a description of your disability, explain how your condition affects your ability to perform your job duties, and suggest possible options for reasonable accommodations. You may include details such as the cost of any equipment you are requesting or how much time off you will need. Your employer can request some medical documentation explaining the extent of your disability to better assess your request.
Next, your employer is required to respond to your request within a reasonable amount of time. They may either accept your request or ask to work together to better understand the type of accommodations you may need. They may also suggest an alternative accommodation idea. You are not required to accept it, but be prepared to provide an explanation of why it will not work as well as an additional suggestion. The goal is to work together to come up with workplace accommodations that will work for everyone.
What Should I Do If I Submitted an Accommodation Request and My Employer Did Not Do Anything?
If you have taken all the proper steps when submitting your request and waited a reasonable amount of time to obtain a response from your employer and nothing was done, there are a few different routes you can take, depending on the type of employer you work for. If your company has a process for dealing with internal disputes or grievances, you may want to file a formal complaint explaining what happened, providing details about your request, and showing that no action was taken or that your request was denied. If you are a union worker, you may resort to using your union’s grievance process to try to get to a resolution with your employer. If you are a Federal employee, you will need to file a complaint with the EEO of the agency you work for within 45 days of receiving notice that your request was denied.
If you are still unable to receive a positive response to a workplace accommodation request and have enough reason to believe your request is appropriate and will not cause undue hardship on your employer, your best course of action is to consult an employment and labor relations law firm. At Geonetta & Frucht, LLP, we help countless San Francisco workers to get the workplace accommodations they need. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your case and see how we can assist you.