Under Federal and California state law, employees are guaranteed the opportunity to be offered reasonable accommodations if they request them as part of a recognized disability or medical condition. So, if you are a California employee and have the ability to work in a given position with a reasonable accommodation, you should be afforded an accommodation by your employer that would allow you to perform your job as long as that accommodation does not unduly harm your employer's business practices.
The EEOC recently released new guidelines to further clarify what reasonable accommodation requirements mean to both employers and employees under Federal law.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
According to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance, a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment that permits an individual with a disability to be given equal employment opportunities as employees who are not disabled.
Often, accommodations are thought of as more breaks for individuals who need a break to sit if their job requires frequent standing, or some sort of other physical breaks from work.
New EEOC Resource Document on ADA Reasonable Accommodation
Under new EEOC guidelines issued in May 2016, the Federal government has provided further clarification to employers and employees on reasonable accommodation requirements, plus new guidance concerning reasonable accommodations as they relate to workplace leave opportunities.
Under the guidance document, employees must be provided the opportunity to use leave on the same basis as other individuals who do not have a cognizable disability. Under law, employers are to treat a vacation or sick leave request from an employee for leave relating to a disability the same as any other leave request unrelated to a disability.
Also, if an employer generally grants vacation leave without any conditions, the employer cannot reject an employee's request to use vacation leave for a reason relating to a disability. The EEOC gives the example of an employee requesting vacation leave to have his wheelchair repaired. The employer refuses, and requires the employee to use sick leave. Unless the employer requires other non-disabled employees to justify uses for their vacation leave, then the employer cannot place limits on the uses of vacation leave (as opposed to sick leave) for a disabled employee.
An employer must also consider granting unpaid leave to a disabled employee if required by the employee's disability unless granting that leave creates an undue hardship for the employer.
What is the interactive process?
In determining whether an accommodation can be reasonably granted by an employer, the employer and employee must engage in what is called an interactive process. That is, both the employer and the employee must discuss potential accommodations. Failure to engage in this process can be a violation of the law in and of itself.
The interactive process is a process by which the employer and employee discuss whether or which accommodations may be appropriate to allow the disabled employee to perform his or her work duties.
This process can be quick or lengthy, but essentially there must be some sort of reasonable discussion about what, if any, accommodation can be provided to an employee with a cognizable disability or medical condition.
California Reasonable Accommodation Laws
California has its own set of standards that apply under state law. While similar, its regulatory system is enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Under DFEH rules, a California employer must consider all possibilities for reasonable accommodations before refusing to provide an accommodation to a disabled employee. A reasonable accommodation in California may include changing the job duties of a disabled employee, changing work shifts, providing medical leave, relocating a work area, or providing mechanical aids to an employee to help the employee perform his duties.
If you have further questions regarding your California or Federal workplace disability rights or reasonable accommodation laws, contact an experienced California disability discrimination attorney at Hennig Ruiz for your free consultation.