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
April 25, 2001
This is in response to your letter of April 1, 2001, concerning the work experiences of your children, who are deaf. According to your letter, your son and daughter are highly-educated, motivated, and capable, but are paid less than their co-workers without disabilities, have been denied promotional opportunities, and are not being provided with special devices to participate fully in meetings. You ask what the federal government can do to provide opportunities for people such as your children.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal employment anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with a disability. This includes discrimination in hiring, promotion, and the terms and conditions of employment. Therefore, it can be a violation of the ADA to pay a qualified employee with a disability less than a non-disabled employee for similar work.
The ADA also requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodation" to individuals with disabilities so that they can perform their jobs and gain equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Reasonable accommodation can take many forms. For individuals who are deaf, reasonable accommodation can include provision of devices to aid in communication at meetings and instructing employees to use the relay service rather than regular telephone service when communicating with an employee who is deaf.
An individual must inform an employer that s/he needs a reasonable accommodation because of a disability. After a request is made, the employee and employer should engage in an interactive process to determine whether and what type of accommodation would be effective. As part of this interactive process, it is important that an individual tell an employer precisely how limitations from a disability affect the ability to perform a job or to participate fully in staff meetings. If the individual knows what type of reasonable accommodation would be helpful, s/he should tell the employer. The employer can suggest alternative accommodations and the individual should consider whether they would be effective. The employer does not have to provide the specific accommodation requested, but if it does not, it must offer an effective alternative.
If your children believe they have been subjected to discrimination based on their disability, or they have requested but have been denied reasonable accommodation, then they can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC. Once a charge is filed, EEOC can investigate the situation and, if we determine that discrimination occurred, can attempt to reach a resolution. This can include having an employer provide reasonable accommodations. Your children also can ask about EEOC's mediation program which offers employers and employees an opportunity to mediate their dispute. If the parties reach a resolution as the result of mediation, then a settlement is signed and the charge of discrimination is withdrawn. If they do not reach a resolution, then the EEOC can proceed with an investigation.
To reach the nearest EEOC field office, your children can call 1-800-669-4000. I have enclosed two copies of the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA. This document provides detailed information on an employer's obligation to provide reasonable accommodation, how individuals can request reasonable accommodation, the discussion that should occur between the employer and the individual, and the limited situations in which an employer can refuse to provide reasonable accommodation.
I hope that this information is helpful. This letter is not an official opinion of the EEOC.
Christopher J. Kuczynski
Assistant Legal Counsel
This page was last modified on April 27, 2007.
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