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Reasonable Accommodations and the ADA
April 26, 2006
A receptionist, who works at a law firm, begins experiencing a significant loss in vision due to macular degeneration. She can no longer accurately see the lights on the phone console that indicate which telephone lines are ringing, on hold, or in use by staff.
Question 1: Can the employer fire her?
No. The employer cannot fire this employee at this point in time. Instead, the employer must explore whether or not a reasonable accommodation can be found that will allow the receptionist to continue to perform the essential functions of her job.
For instance, a magnifying screen mounted over the phone console might enlarge the extension numbers as well as the lights indicating incoming and outgoing calls as well as calls that are on hold. Other accommodations might also work. If the employee cannot suggest an effective accommodation, the employee or the employer may wish to contact the following organizations for additional assistance in identifying possible accommodations that might allow the employee to continue to perform the essential functions of her job.
For More Information
- Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
Phone: 1-800-526-7234 (v/tty)
- State Assistive Technology Project
Question 2: Can a person with a disability be put on leave while the employer is researching the accommodation?
Offering extended leave until an accommodation can be put in place may be a form of reasonable accommodation. However, before putting the employee on extended leave, an employer should first consider all available options. Instead of automatically putting her on extended leave, the employer and the employee should explore ways in which the employee could continue to perform all or most of the essential functions of her job.
In this scenario, responding efficiently to phone calls constitutes a major portion of the employee's essential job functions. Until a suitable accommodation can be researched and put in place, it might be possible to move this employee temporarily to another vacant position for which she is qualified until the reasonable accommodation can be implemented. For instance, the employee might be able to work as a file clerk, using a hand-held magnifier so that she can more easily read the labels on the files.
An employer should consider all available options before an employee is put on leave. Employers must also be very careful not to delay reasonable accommodation requests unnecessarily. If a reasonable accommodation option is not immediately available or must be researched, it is important to continue a dialogue with the employee with a disability to ensure that he/she can continue in his/her job.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act (www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html) states:
An employer should respond expeditiously to a request for reasonable accommodation. If the employer and the individual with a disability need to engage in an interactive process, this too should proceed as quickly as possible.(37) Similarly, the employer should act promptly to provide the reasonable accommodation. Unnecessary delays can result in a violation of the ADA.(38)
Example: An employee who is blind requests adaptive equipment for her computer as a reasonable accommodation. The employer must order this equipment and is informed that it will take three months to receive delivery. No other company sells the adaptive equipment the employee needs. The employer notifies the employee of the results of its investigation and that it has ordered the equipment. Although it will take three months to receive the equipment, the employer has moved as quickly as it can to obtain it and thus there is no ADA violation resulting from the delay. The employer and employee should determine what can be done so that the employee can perform his/her job as effectively as possible while waiting for the equipment." [emphasis added]
Note that in this example, the EEOC emphasizes the need for an employer and employee to determine what can be done so that the employee can perform his/her job as effectively as possible while waiting for the equipment. This continues to highlight the need for the employer and employee to continue the "interactive process".
Still Have Questions?
Contact your regional ADA & IT Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC)
Phone: 1-800-949-4232 (v/tty)
The Southeast Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) is authorized by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to provide information, materials, and technical assistance to individuals and entities that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) under Grant #H133D010207. However, you should be aware that NIDRR is not responsible for enforcement of the ADA For more information or assistance, please contact the Southeast DBTAC via its web site at www.sedbtac.org or by calling 1-800-949-4232 (TTY/voice).