Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, injured workers or those with debilitating medical conditions and severe illnesses have federal protections for their right to remain employed or seek employment despite their disabilities. Having a medical condition or disability is a protected attribute under federal law, which means that employers should not discriminate against current or potential workers because of an illness, injury or disability.
Whether you have just started a new job or you have worked for the same company for years and recently experienced a medical event or serious workplace accident, it is your right to request reasonable accommodations that will allow you to continue working. Your employer or prospective employer should do their best to help you succeed in your position despite your medical limitations.
What workplaces are part of the ADA?
Most companies need to comply with the requirements laid out in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Provided that your employer has 15 or more employees, they must comply with the requirements of the ADA. These protections apply to workers employed by or seeking employment from private businesses, employment/temp agencies, state and local government organizations, and labor unions. Any employee working under a covered employer has the right to request reasonable accommodations.
What is a reasonable accommodation?
Like many legal terms, reasonable accommodation is somewhat vague, allowing for both injured workers and employers to interpret the phrase for their own benefit. The vagueness here can lead to conflicts between workers and employers, particularly if what a worker views as reasonable seems less reasonable to their employer.
However, there are certain legal standards that can help you determine whether a requested accommodation should receive immediate approval. Your employer can only deny an accommodation request if the request could damage the company or cost it a lot of money or productivity.
Undue hardship is usually what an employer must prove if they attempt to assert that your accommodation request is not reasonable. Whether it costs thousands of dollars or would impact the ability of other employees to work, only unreasonable accommodations that create hardship for your employer will justify denying basic accommodations to an injured or disabled worker.
Examples of accommodations you could request
Different jobs and medical conditions will necessitate different kinds of accommodation. For some workers, reasonable accommodation could include the ability to take frequent breaks, either to rest an injured body part or to avoid overexertion. For other workers, reasonable accommodations could include a change in work responsibilities and physical tasks.
Accessibility alterations and devices, ranging from ergonomic technology to wheelchair ramps, are also reasonable accommodations for disabled workers. If your employer refuses to work with your request for reasonable accommodations, you may need to take legal action to assert your rights as a disabled or injured worker in the United States.