Job Applicants with Disabilities: Part 1 – Assessing a Job Description

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Job Applicants with Disabilities: Part 1 – Assessing a Job Description

This guest post article is written by LegalMatch.



Job searching with a disability is a stressful endeavor. Too often, you might face uncomfortable questions or assumptions about your abilities. However, federal and state laws offer important protections to disabled workers. Learn more about how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) impacts your job search and your prospective employer’s obligations below.

Interpreting Job Descriptions and Essential Job Functions

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled job applicants who can perform the essential functions of a job—with or without reasonable accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) examines a series of factors when it decides whether a job function is essential, including whether:

  • It was included in job descriptions written before the employer advertised the job opening,
  • The function is the sole or primary purpose of the job,
  • The actual work performed by other people who had or have the job,
  • How much time is spent actually performing the function,
  • The consequences of failing to perform the function, and
  • The level of skill and expertise required to perform the function.

Sometimes, this analysis is relatively simple. Some jobs involve one primary function, such as data entry.

However, many jobs involve multiple functions and responsibilities. For example, a factory worker might cycle through multiple workstations during a single shift that have different functions and physical demands. In these more complicated cases, you must perform a detailed analysis of the employer’s policies, procedures, and day-to-day operations. If you need help identifying a job’s essential functions, contact the EEOC or an employment lawyer.

Reasonable Accommodation 101

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for your disabilities. Reasonable accommodations involve assistance or changes made to a job that allow an otherwise qualified person to successfully perform it. Examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • The use of adaptive or assistive technology, such as voice recognition software or a screen magnifier,
  • Offering flexible hours that give the employee time to seek medical treatment,
  • Permitting short breaks to take medications, eat, or rest,
  • Hiring interpreters and other support staff, or
  • Offering assistance with minor job duties, such as help with occasional heavy lifting.

Importantly, an employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it is requested. You do not have to specifically say the words, “reasonable accommodation,” or mention the ADA. Instead, you simply have to report that you need help due to a medical condition. While your request can be oral, it’s typically in your best interest to request an accommodation in writing. That way, you will have evidence of your request if a dispute arises.

Once a request is made, you and your employer will explore possible accommodations. This is typically an interactive process. You might suggest a series of possible accommodations and you and your employer will decide which option best serves your respective needs.

Are There Exceptions to the Reasonable Accommodation Rule?

An employer does not have to offer a reasonable accommodation if it would cause undue hardship. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis. However, the EEOC typically evaluates:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation,
  • Whether the accommodation would fundamentally alter the nature of the business,
  • Whether the accommodation would cause undue disruption, and
  • The company’s financial resources.

However, an employer cannot deny a reasonable accommodation due to the fears or prejudices of its other employees or customers. It similarly cannot deny a reasonable accommodation due to fears that it would reduce company morale.

If the employer determines that your requested accommodation would cause undue hardship, you can propose other accommodations. Your employer might also propose a different reasonable accommodation.

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