Under both federal and California state law, employers are required to provide accommodations for a worker’s disability if providing them to the worker does not cause unreasonable hardship to the employer. An employer’s obligations to disabled employees under federal law stems from the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Employers in California are also subject to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. FEHA is considered to provide greater protections to disabled workers since it has broader definitions of disability, stricter rules for employers, and more favorable remedies for aggrieved workers than the ADA.
Requirements Under FEHA and AD
An employer subject to FEHA or the ADA may be required to provide an accommodation for an employee’s disability if:
- The employer knows of the employee’s disability or perceives that an employee has a disability.
- The employee requests accommodation for their disability.
- The requested accommodation does not unreasonably burden the employer.
- The employee can perform the essential duties of their job with the accommodation.
An employer is not obligated to offer an accommodation until requested by an employee. However, an employee is not required to use any “magic words” to be considered to have requested an accommodation. Once an employee does request an accommodation, their employer is required to engage in an “interactive process” with the employee to agree upon a reasonable accommodation, or to determine that no reasonable accommodation will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of their job.
Whether an accommodation is considered reasonable for an employer is based on several factors, including:
- The financial cost of the accommodation
- The size of the facility where the accommodation will be provided
- The employer’s size and resources
- The type of operations that the employer’s workforce engages in
- The geographic, administrative, and financial relationships of the employer’s facilities
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
Five common examples of reasonable accommodations that employers and employees agree to include:
- Altering job duties – Although an employer is not required to remove essential job functions to accommodate a disabled employee, reasonable accommodations may include reassigning incidental or ancillary duties not core to the employee’s position. Altering job duties may also include restricting the types of physical labor the employee may be required to perform, such as not requiring the employee to bend over or to lift more than a certain amount of weight.
- Providing extended leave options to attend medical care – Accommodations may also include granting liberal leave to an employee to obtain medical care for their disability. For example, an employee may be given half-days off on a weekly or biweekly basis to attend medical appointments for treatments.
- Altering work schedules – An employee may be given an altered working schedule to help accommodate disabilities, such as being allowed to work a 7-to-3 or 10-to-6 shift instead of the employer’s normal 9-to-5 business hours or being allowed to work from home for certain portions of the workweek.
- Relocating work areas – An employee’s work area may be relocated to provide physical accommodations, such as ensuring that an employee is not required to walk up flights of stairs, or to provide easier access to the restroom.
- Providing furniture or equipment aids – An employer may agree to purchase ergonomic furniture or other equipment such as variable desks to allow an employee to stand or sit when necessary to accommodate physical pain from disabilities. However, an employer is not required to purchase equipment that an employee might use to help accommodate their disability on their personal time, such as a prosthetic limb.
Contact Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP
When you believe you aren’t being afforded reasonable accommodations for your disabilities, contact the California employment law attorneys of Wagner Zemming Christensen, LLP, or give us a call at 951-686-4800 for an initial consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options.