All about workplace accommodations

Last updated: April 22, 2024
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Rochelly Fajardo
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All about workplace accommodations
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Anyone with a disability can have a fulfilling career. With a few workplace accommodations, you can be a productive member of any team.

Most employers are happy to make accommodations for their employees, and robust laws prevent discrimination against people with a disability.

Plus, 56% of accommodations will have zero cost to the employer. The rest are inexpensive accommodations, costing $500 on average.

What is a reasonable accommodation request? And, how can you ask the employer to support your needs?

Keep reading, because we'll answer both of these questions and tell you everything you need to know about workplace accommodations.

What are workplace accommodations?

Employees with disabilities may need a few modifications to do their jobs properly. These are called workplace accommodations and can include changes to equipment, work arrangements, accessibility, and training materials.

To be eligible for workplace accommodations under law, you have to have a widely recognized disability. Physical or mental impairments that affect your ability to perform day-to-day activities are usually covered.

Every situation is different, and disabilities may be temporary, permanent, or covered under workers' compensation. Employees need to work closely with their employers to find the right solution.

What types of accommodations may be available? Here's an example. If you have a mental impairment, you may benefit from a flexible schedule. You may have health appointments to attend or need breaks during the day.

If you have a back injury, you may need an ergonomic chair or stand-up desk. If you use a wheelchair, the workspace can be rearranged to create a clear pathway.

These are mostly simple adjustments that a potential employer will be happy to (and often legally obliged to) make.

Do employers need to make workplace accommodations?

Rules can vary depending on where you live. However, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) says that companies with more than fifteen team members need to make reasonable workplace accommodations.

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So, if you have a recognized disability (under ADA), you can expect the employer to work with you on accommodation solutions.

There's a catch, though. If the changes are going to negatively impact the company's budget, they may not have to make the accommodations. Most of the time, employers will try to come up with different solutions that benefit the employee and don't break the bank.

Remember, companies can't legally discriminate against individuals with disabilities. For example, a potential employer can't prioritize job applicants who don't have a disability.

They can't treat employees without disabilities differently or fire someone due to a medical condition.

If you think you've been treated unfairly due to a disability, you can seek legal advice.

What types of job accommodations can you ask for?

In general, you can ask for any accommodation as long as it’s clearly related to a recognized disability. This usually takes the form of an individual request based on your unique circumstances.

Your team of healthcare providers may be able to help you decide what form of accommodation will be right for you. These might include general practitioners, physical therapists, and psychiatrists.

Here are a few common job accommodations you can ask for:

Modified job duties

Sometimes, small changes to your job duties can help you get back to work after an injury. It doesn't matter if your disability is temporary or permanent. Switching to light duties could be an option.

For example, if you work in a warehouse, you may not be able to do any heavy lifting or bending at the waist. Instead, you could do some of the administrative duties, such as inventory management or answering phones.

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If you're unable to do your role, you may be given a new one. Let's say you were a customer service representative in a department store but can no longer spend long hours on your feet. The employer may let you switch to a seated cashier position.

A flexible work schedule

People may need a flexible work schedule for several different reasons. They may need reduced hours, such as part-time work or regular breaks.

If you're undergoing medical treatment, you may need time off to visit your health care providers. If you have a psychiatric disability, such as anxiety or depression, you may need days off to take care of your mental health.

Some employees benefit from a hybrid or remote workplace. If you have a disability and find it difficult getting to and from work, a work-from-home role could be a good fit.

These accommodation ideas won't be practical options in every workplace, but it can be worth discussing them with your employer.

Tools and equipment

Different tools and equipment can help you do your job effectively in spite of a new injury or illness.

For example, an adjustable chair or an ergonomic workstation can be beneficial to those with physical injuries. Employees who are deaf can be given visual documents or access to an interpreter.

In a warehouse environment, lifting tools and trolleys will take the physical strain out of moving goods.

Someone with a mental health impairment may appreciate a quiet room to spend their breaks.

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Remember, the types of tools and equipment you need will depend on your unique situation.

A customized work environment

There are other ways employers can create an accessible format for both employees and customers.

Handrails can be installed for people who have mobility issues. Employers can provide accessible restrooms, and change the layout to suit different needs.

Disabled parking spaces and wheelchair ramps can make it easier to get around for employees with mobility impairments.

When employers customize the work environment, they can create a more inclusive company culture. And that’s good for both existing employees and new applicants, with or without disabilities.

Support animals

Some employees rely on service animals. These support animals are usually dogs and help people with a range of disabilities.

To welcome a service animal into the workplace, the employer may have to make a few changes. For example, it'll need to be a pet-friendly, more quiet work environment.

Other team members will also need to know how to act around the service animal. These animals are trained to do a job and shouldn't be treated as regular pets.

How do you ask for a workplace accommodation?

Want to make a request for accommodations? Here are our top tips to get it right.

1. Ask in writing

Always request any accommodations in writing. This will leave a paper trail that can be forwarded to the right person (or used in a potential legal case if denied unjustly).

If you need to make changes to your request, you can refer to the original letter.

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An email to your manager is a good place to start. If you prefer, you can write a traditional letter instead. You don't have to go into too much detail, just stick with what makes you feel comfortable.

If you don't hear back within a few days, you can follow up. It may be an interactive process where you work closely with the manager until you find the right solution.

Make sure you put the date on your written request.

2. Be clear about what you need

Before having an accommodation conversation, think about what you need. What types of modifications can help you do your job?

It's important to be realistic. For example, a reasonable accommodation could be a reserved parking spot close to the front door. On the other hand, asking for your own private chauffeur isn't a good idea.

When you ask the employer, try to offer cost-effective solutions.

They won't know how to help you unless you tell them. If you're unsure what to ask for, you can talk to a health professional, friend, or family member.

Non-disabled employees shouldn't ask for special accommodations.

3. Know your rights

It's illegal to discriminate in the workplace. Anti-discrimination laws cover a range of areas, including disability, gender, and race.

Employers can't ask for medical information during the interview process. They can ask you to take a medical test after they've made a conditional job offer, but the same rule needs to apply to every job applicant.

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If you have a current position and need accommodations, you shouldn't ever feel guilty for asking. You’ll still be a valued member of the team and will be better able to contribute if you have the support of your employer.

Don't forget that the human resources manager needs to protect your employee confidentiality. If you're unsure about your rights, you can contact a disability advocate or workplace discrimination lawyer.

4. Speak to someone you trust

Talking to your employer about accommodations may feel daunting, especially if you're new, but they don't have to make any changes unless you tell them you have a disability.

It's important to find someone you trust. It could be someone from human resources, a supervisor, or a manager.

If you need any modifications, things will happen much quicker if you have a point of contact who truly understands your situation. To be approved, you may need to show your medical records to prove you have a disability.

5. Don’t wait

The sooner you get your accommodations, the better. You want to be productive at work, and a few modifications can help you do your job more efficiently. Plus, having a comfortable workplace will support your personal health.

You might not have an obvious disability, so your employer may not know that you need help. Even if you're not sure what your options are, discussing potential problems can be a good start.

For example, you may not be able to handle a full-time work week, and you can mention this to your manager. The employer could suggest part-time hours, or a hybrid work arrangement with some days spent working from home.

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Getting an effective accommodation ready can take time, so speak up as soon as you know there'll be an issue.

6. Connect with a disability support advocate

If you need support with your accommodation process, you can speak with a disability support advocate. There may be organizations in your area, and your healthcare team should be able to recommend someone.

For those looking for work, a job coach can help with resume writing and interview skills.

If you want general advice, check out the Job Accommodation Network. The website has information for both individuals and employers.

7. Keep the conversation open

When you make your first request for accommodation, it'll be based on your current circumstances. But things can change over time.

For example, some conditions are temporary, and on the flipside, some can develop for the worse. If you have a chronic health condition, you may already know what to expect. But, some conditions can get worse, or the symptoms can change.

What worked for you at one point, may not work for you in the future.

That is why it's important to keep the conversation open. A good manager will check in with you to see how things are going, and you can keep them updated if there are any unexpected workplace barriers.

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Sample workplace accommodation request letter

Not sure how to ask for a workplace accommodation? Here’s a sample letter:

03/03/2022

Dear Mr. Green,

I am writing to request workplace accommodations. I have been working at Blue Marine since August 2021.

Due to a back injury, I am having difficulty lifting boxes and standing for long hours.

Some suggestions for accommodations include:

  • Equipment to support heavy lifting

  • Increased administrative duties

  • Regular breaks

I have a defined disability that’s recognized by the ADA. I enjoy working at Blue Marine, but I need support to do my job effectively.

If you have any other suggestions for accommodations, I would love to work with you to come up with a solution.

I would appreciate a response in writing, so we can start the process. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Thank you for your time,

Kind regards

Jamie Drake

12 Ocean Road, Ocean Road, NY 10001

Phone: (000) 000-000-000

Workplace accommodation request letter template

Now, here’s a free template that you can change to suit your circumstances. You can use it for a physical disability, intellectual disability, or mental health condition.

(Date)

Dear (Manager’s Name)

I am writing to request workplace accommodations. I have been working at (Company Name) since (Date).

Due to a (disability type), I am having difficulty (list any issues you are having).

Some suggestions for accommodations include:

  • (Accommodation type)

  • (Accommodation type)

  • (Accommodation type)

I have a defined disability that’s recognized by the ADA. I enjoy working at (Company Name), but I need support to do my job properly.

If you have any other suggestions for accommodations, I would love to work with you to come up with a solution.

I would appreciate a response in writing, so we can start the process. If you have any questions, please let me know.

Thank you for your time,

Kind regards

(Your Full Name)

(Your Address)

Phone: (Your Phone Number)

Some employers will have their own templates for you to fill out. Here’s an example from Auburn University:

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Workplace accommodation FAQs

Before you go, there are a few more things you should know about accommodations in the workplace. Here are some FAQs:

Q. What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects people who have a disability — it's been a civil rights law since 1990, and prevents discrimination against them in the workplace and in other settings.

Whether it's at work or school, on a train, or at your local grocery store, the ADA says everyone should have the same rights, regardless of disability.

If a company advertises a vacant position, people with disabilities should have the same opportunity to apply.

You can learn more about the ADA on their website.

Q. What's the difference between temporary and permanent workplace accommodations?

Not all workplace accommodations need to last forever.

For example, you may have broken your arm and need a short-term solution to help you get back to work. Once your arm has healed, you can go back to your regular job duties.

Alternatively, if you have an intellectual disability or chronic illness, you'll need long-term support.

Q. Can you ask for accommodations for a job interview?

Yes. Before the interview, you can ask for accommodations to make it possible for you to attend. For example, you might ask for a location with an access ramp for a wheelchair.

You could tell them you need to bring a service animal or ask for a sign-language interpreter.

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If you think you'll need accommodations for the interview, make sure you ask ahead of time.

Q. What isn't considered a reasonable accommodation?

Accommodation requests need to be reasonable. Some jobs have essential functions, and you can't ask for these to be removed. For example, if you're a bartender, you'll need to serve drinks to do your job.

You can't ask your employer to purchase personal care items for you. If you need a walking stick, eyeglasses, medication, or a wheelchair, these are your responsibility.

Asking for workplace accommodations

People with disabilities can ask their employer for workplace accommodations. By making a few changes, these employees can be 100% productive at work.

There are many accommodations you can ask for if you have a disability. Modified job duties, flexible work schedules, tools and equipment, customized workspaces, and support animals are all options to consider.

How do you ask your employer for workplace accommodations? First, make sure you ask in writing and include the date in your email or letter. Be clear about what you need, and speak to someone you trust. If you’re not sure, speak to a disability advocate for support.

There are laws against discrimination, so it’s important to know your rights. Ask as soon as possible, and keep the conversation open as things can change.

Ready to start your job search? Visit our job board. Then, jump over to our resource center for more career advice.

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