Federal law requires most employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities and religious needs. A reasonable accommodation is generally a change in the way the work is performed. It could include schedule changes, technology changes or even allowing the person to work remotely. The accommodation is considered reasonable if it would not create “undue hardship,” meaning significant cost or disruption, for the employer.
Many employers designate a single person or small group to handle religious or disability accommodations. Doing so can help ensure that the process is handled by knowledgeable people and is fair to all employees. Making sure the designated people understand their legal responsibilities can prevent discrimination based on disability or religion.
The designated accommodations group needs to understand:
- The basics of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) in terms of accommodations
- Your business’s policies and rules for religious and disability accommodations
- The importance of a prompt, effective response to accommodation requests
- How to recognize a disability or religious accommodation request
- How to process these requests in compliance with the ADA and Title VII
- The importance of keeping disability requests and associated medical information in a separate, confidential file
- Those situations when they may request additional information or documentation about the person’s disability or religious beliefs
For example, when an employee requests a disability accommodation, the group should discuss the person’s specific needs in order to identify a suitable accommodation. This should be an interactive process in which you work with the employee to determine the best way forward. When more than one accommodation would work, you can choose the simplest or least expensive option.
Similarly, the EEOC recommends taking a flexible, cooperative stance when evaluating a worker’s request for a religious accommodation. Discuss the person’s specific needs and try to reach an agreement over what accommodation is needed. You can ask for a reasonable amount of additional information. If you feel the worker should not receive the accommodation and can’t work out a solution, you should discuss the situation with an employment law attorney.
Managers who are not part of the accommodations group also have responsibilities:
- Knowing your business’s policies and rules for accommodations
- Knowing how to recognize a religious or disability accommodation request and who to ask if they receive one
- Understanding the importance of keeping disability requests and all associated medical information in a separate, confidential file
- Awareness that there are strict rules about when employers can request additional medical or religious information
For information about a specific situation or to set up legally compliant policies, contact your employment law attorney.