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What is reasonable employee accomodation for disabilities?

Both federal and California law prohibit discriminating against employees with disabilities. In practice, this means employers may not refuse to hire candidates because of their disability. They may also not treat an employee worse than others due to a disability.

Common types of discrimination include reducing pay, denying promotion or training opportunities and even termination. But what if the disability really does affect the employee's ability to do the job? California's Fair Employment and Housing Act mandates that the employer provide reasonable accommodation for the disability. It also lists several types of possible accommodations.

How is reasonableness fact-specific?

What is reasonable can differ greatly depending on the specific situation. Relevant factors include the resources of the employer, the nature of the particular job and how far possible accommodations can go in helping the employee do the job.

Does the disability affect essential functions?

Defining the essential functions of a job can help employers and employees determine which activities may need accommodation. For example, if an employee cannot lift over 25 pounds, it is important to know whether the job may require heavy lifting. If the employee may need to lift only very infrequently, an employer might accommodate by assigning the lifting to another person. If most of the job consists of lifting, other accommodations may help more, such as retraining for another position.

What are typical accommodations?

Common reasonable accommodations may include arranging a flexible or reduced schedule, offering additional training, providing assistive equipment and modifying protocols for performing essential functions. Some employers take a hard line to avoid dealing with a disabled employee and claim that the job absolutely cannot be modified in any way at all. In most cases, this is not true.

Do employers bear the burden of coming up with possible accommodations?

The law requires employers to be flexible and work with employees in coming up with possible accommodations. This is called the interactive process, and failing to engage in it can create a cause of action in itself in California. Under federal law, employees must prove that the employer could have accommodated but decided not to. California law acknowledges that employees may not have access to vital information about company structures, protocols and finances that would help them understand whether an accommodation would work.

If you have suffered employment discrimination based on a disability, consult an experienced attorney right away. You may have more options than you think to protect your legal rights.

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