Do Employers Always Have To Make Accommodations For Employees With Disabilities?

The short answer is no. But it’s a little more complicated than that. The law is trying to level the employment playing field as much as possible for persons who are challenged with disabilities but who are otherwise fully capable of performing the responsibilities of employment. 

An employer’s responsibility to accommodate the needs of an employee with a disability is unique to the employment situation and the employee. California’s laws are to be interpreted broadly with the goal of making employment accessible for all people who are capable of doing the work. 

That is not to say that employers are required to give in to every accommodation request made by an employee. An employer is not obligated to put themselves in a position of extreme sacrifice to accommodate an employee’s disability. Employers with four or fewer employees in California are not subject to employment discrimination laws and do not have to provide accommodations for their employees.

When an employer has failed to provide an accommodation to an employee, and the employee has brought a disability discrimination claim against the employer, the court will consider the employee’s request and how easily the employer could have made the accommodation. It wouldn’t go well for the employer if the employee’s accommodation request had a solution that the employer could have provided without too much trouble. 

What California Law Says Employers Must Do   

The California Code of Regulations requires employers to evaluate job applicants and employees on the basis of their individual skills, knowledge, and abilities and to establish employment practices that result in equal treatment for all persons regardless of:

  • Race
  • Religious creed
  • Color 
  • National origin
  • Ancestry
  • Physical disability
  • Mental disability
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Gender identity
  • Gender expression
  • Age – 40+
  • Military and veteran status
  • Sexual orientation

When is an Employee Considered Disabled?

What counts as a disability is broadly defined for employment discrimination purposes and includes many mental and physical conditions but generally excludes mental conditions associated with criminal conduct and mild physical conditions that do not affect major life activities. 

An employer who is aware of a job applicant’s or employee’s disability must make reasonable accommodations for the disability unless the employer can show that the accommodation would cause the employer undue hardship

The California Legislature has said that an accommodation imposes an undue hardship when it requires significant difficulty or expense after considering the following factors:

  • The nature and cost of the requested accommodation
  • Financial resources of the employer
  • How the accommodation might affect the business
  • The type of business operations 
  • Geographic considerations

An employer also has a recognized defense to an accusation of disability discrimination. No accommodation is necessary if the employer can show that there is no reasonable accommodation that can be made for an applicant’s or employee’s disability that would allow the person to perform the essential job functions without risk of substantial harm to themselves or others.

How Employers Comply With Disabled Employee Discrimination Laws

In order to determine a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s disability, the employer and employee are to engage in an interactive process to identify possible solutions for the employee’s situation. A standardized accommodation may not be a fit for a particular disability so accommodations are to be based on individual needs.  

Employers may accommodate an employee’s disability in any of the following ways:

  • Modifying job duties
  • Modifying work hours
  • Making work facilities accessible
  • Relocating an employee to different work facilities
  • Modifying work equipment or buying additional equipment
  • Flexible leave policies
  • Reassigning an employee to a different position
  • Changing company policies
  • Providing training or assistance

What to do if an Employer is Unwilling to Accommodate an Employee’s Disability

Just because an employee with a disability makes a request for an accommodation does not mean an employer is required to do exactly what the employee has proposed. The employee has begun a dialogue with the employer as to what would be a reasonable solution that would allow the employee equal access to an employment opportunity. 

An employee should make sure that an accommodation request is reasonable given the work location, the employer’s business, and the financial capacity of the employer. Requests should be made in writing and should follow any procedures specified by the employer. Employers should respond to accommodation requests in a timely manner.

If an accommodation request is denied, the next move depends on the reason for the denial. An employee may be able to provide additional information or propose an alternative accommodation. If an employer remains uncooperative or ignores accommodation requests, an employee can file an employment discrimination claim with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). For employers with 15 or more employees, the option also exists to file a federal claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Enforce Workplace Rights with a Sacramento Employment Discrimination Attorney

An employee or job applicant with a qualifying disability has the right to the same employment opportunities as other employees or job applicants without the disability. In order to enforce that right, the law imposes an obligation on certain employers to make the work they need to be done accessible to qualified persons with disabilities. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and those accommodations will vary depending on the needs of the employee. Employers that won’t comply need to be held accountable. 

At Perkins Asbill, our employment discrimination attorneys have over three decades of combined legal experience helping employees in the greater Sacramento area enforce their legal rights against workplace discrimination. Whether an employee needs help preparing a disability accommodation request for an employer or an employer is not cooperating with an employee’s accommodation request, Perkins Asbill can help employees get the fairness they are entitled to. 

Call Perkins Asbill at 916-446-2000 or contact a Sacramento employment discrimination lawyer here.