EEOC Office of Legal Counsel staff members wrote the following informal discussion letter in response to an inquiry from a member of the public. This letter is intended to provide an informal discussion of the noted issue and does not constitute an official opinion of the Commission.
ADA: Reasonable Accommodation
January 9, 2007
This responds to your December 11, 2006, e.mail concerning certain aspects of the reasonable accommodation process under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Specifically, you ask whether an employer is permitted to: (1) ask an employee the cost of a requested accommodation; (2) with respect to confidentiality, involve a third party who is not the employee’s supervisor in the accommodation process; (3) “provide an accommodation in one case, but reserve the right to approve the accommodation on a case.by.case basis although the accommodation is legally documented and may be recurring”; and (4) “question whether the employee would be requesting [ ] the accommodation again in the future for their training sessions, citing that if the employee needs the accommodation it may or may not impact his or her decision to send that employee to training.”
It is permissible for an employer to ask an employee who requests accommodation to share any information the employee may have about the cost of the requested accommodation. The Commission has described the interactive process in question 5 of the Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship and the ADA (as revised, 10/17/02), available at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html. The Commission explained that this “informal process is intended to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate accommodation.” To do so, “the employer may ask the individual relevant questions that will enable it to make an informed decision about the request.” While the exact nature of the dialogue will vary, it will often include asking the employee to share any information she may have about what accommodations would be effective, how an accommodation may be obtained, and what the accommodation would cost. In many instances, the employee may be able to describe the particular workplace barrier she is encountering because of a disability, but the employer will need to do additional research to determine the appropriate accommodation and make the necessary arrangements to provide it.
Generally, the employer is permitted to designate which official(s) will be responsible for deciding a reasonable accommodation request. In some cases, officials from human resources, an agency’s disability program office, or in.house counsel participate in deciding accommodation requests, often in conjunction with an employee’s immediate supervisor or other manager in the employee’s chain of command. Some agencies have alternatively given decision.making responsibility to a group of officials who serve together on a “reasonable accommodation committee,” although the Commission has not specifically addressed how such a structure should function.
Regardless of who the decisionmakers are, they are required to abide by the confidentiality requirements applicable under Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act. Moreover, if not involved in a decision.making role, other managers and supervisors are not entitled to learn confidential medical information, including the fact that an employee has requested or is receiving a reasonable accommodation or the underlying medical information supporting the request, except subject to one of the specified confidentiality exceptions. One exception is that supervisors and managers may be told about necessary restrictions on the work or duties of the employee and about necessary accommodations. This may often be done without revealing the underlying medical diagnosis or medical information. For more information, in addition to the Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship, you may wish to consult “Practical Advice for Drafting and Implementing Reasonable Accommodation Procedures Under Executive Order 13164” (7/19/05), available at http://www.eeoc.gov/federal/implementing_accommodation.html.
Where an employee has requested a type of accommodation that he or she needs on a repeated basis .- for example, the assistance of sign language interpreters or readers .- an agency may not require that the individual submit a written request for recordkeeping purposes each time the accommodation is needed. Agency procedures should provide that once the reasonable accommodation needed on a recurring basis is approved the first time, the individual with a disability may obtain the accommodation by notice to an appropriate individual or office. See Policy Guidance on Executive Order 13164: Establishing Procedures to Facilitate the Provision of Reasonable Accommodation (7/26/00) at question 3, available at http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/ docs/accommodation_procedures.html. However, there may be cases where further decision.making occurs, for example where an individual’s hearing impairment is such that he needs a sign language interpreter or other accommodation in certain types of meetings but not in others. In such situations, while an employer would not be entitled to revisit the issue of whether the employee has a disability, the employer may contend that it is entitled to make a determination on a case.by.case basis as to whether the accommodation is needed.
Once on notice of the need for accommodation, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation (e.g. sign language interpreters) that will provide employees with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in employer.sponsored training, absent undue hardship. This obligation applies to in.house training and to employer-sponsored training provided by an outside entity, whether occurring on the employer’s premises or elsewhere, that an employee is being directed to attend or is permitted to attend as a benefit or privilege of employment. An employer may not deny an employee training in which the employee would otherwise be eligible to participate, and for which the employee would otherwise be selected, because of the need for a reasonable accommodation. While an accommodation can be denied where it would pose an undue hardship, the employer would have to offer an individual with a disability an effective alternative accommodation, if one existed, that could be provided without undue hardship.
I hope this discussion of the issues you raise has been helpful. This is an informal discussion of the issues you raised and does not constitute an official opinion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a comment on the application to any particular case of the principles discussed. Further, our silence on other statements or analyses that may have been presented in your letter should not be construed as agreement with those matters.
Senior Attorney Advisor
This page was last modified on May 2, 2007.
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