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What is a 'reasonable accommodation'?

If you are disabled or pregnant, state and federal laws require that your employer allow for accommodations to help you in the workplace. However, these accommodations must be reasonable and not put any undue hardship on the employer.

This might all make sense in theory, but putting it into practice can be more complicated. What you might assume is a reasonable request could be perceived as unreasonable by your employer. In this post, we will examine some common examples of what may or may not be reasonable accommodations for a pregnant worker or disabled employee.

A reasonable accommodation can include:

  • A stool or chair so that you can sit down in jobs that don't require standing
  • Having easy access to restrooms and water fountains
  • More frequent breaks
  • Temporary relief from strenuous job tasks
  • Modified work schedule
  • Use of job-protected leave
  • restructuring jobs
  • part time or modifying work schedules
  • buying or modifying equipment
  • modifying examinations and policies
  • reassignment to a vacant position

These are all common types of reasonable accommodations. As a contrast, below are some accommodations that would generally be considered unreasonable.

  • Relief from essential job duties (Note: Employers often claim various job duties are "essential" when they are not.)
  • Taking leave without making any indication of an end date (Note: A finite leave of absence can be a reasonable accommodation. As long as the employer is kept on notice of the duration of the leave and the leave will end someday. Employees have medical conditions and disabilities that may require lengthy leaves, even if they are in excess of a year, but it may still qualify as a reasonable accommodation. An employee who has cancer may require time off for surgeries, chemotherapy, or other lifesaving medical treatments.)
  • Permission to violate workplace policies or engage in unlawful behavior (Note: There should be no instance where a disabled employee seeks to use his or her medical condition to violate the law. For example, an employee who sexually harasses another employee should not be allowed to harass simply because he or she has a drug addiction problem or a terminal illness. Disabled employees must abide by the laws too.)

Generally speaking, if an accommodation places an undue burden on an employer's business, then it may be considered unreasonable. However, before denying an accommodation request because of undue hardship, employers must explore different options that might make a seemingly difficult accommodation possible. For this reason, it is not easy for most companies to prove undue hardship.

You must also remember that in order to receive accommodations, your employer needs to know about your condition, and you will typically need to make a request for an accommodation. Employers generally won't offer them up, even if they are accommodations that have already been made for other disabled or pregnant workers.

What we hope readers take away from this blog post is that disabled and pregnant employees have the right to accommodations in the workplace. If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer must treat her in the same way as it treats any other disabled employee. For example, the employer may have to provide modified duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave to pregnant employees. As long as they are reasonable and properly requested, the accommodations should be granted.

If you feel that you have been wrongfully denied an accommodation, or if you feel you have been retaliated against for requesting one, you can consult an attorney. Your rights as a California employee may have been violated and legal action may be necessary to protect these rights and your livelihood.

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