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
August 6, 2001
This is in response to your letter of June 24, 2001, in which you inquire whether you may be entitled to reasonable accommodation as a result of an on-the-job injury. (1)
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the federal employment anti-discrimination laws, including Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits employers and unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. Discrimination under Title I includes failing to provide "reasonable accommodations" to applicants and employees with disabilities in order to remove workplace barriers and ensure equal opportunity to compete for and perform jobs.
The ADA defines a disability as: (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, (2) a record of a substantially limiting impairment, or (3) being regarded as having a substantially limiting impairment. Having an on-the-job injury does not necessarily mean that an individual meets the ADA definition of disability. To meet the ADA's first definition of "disability," a workers' compensation injury must substantially limit a major life activity. Clearly, your crushed ankle qualifies as an impairment. Whether it substantially limits a major life activity depends on such factors as the length of time that it has prevented or inhibited your ability to engage in specific "major life activities," such as walking, standing, and lifting, and how long these limitations can be expected to last.
If an individual's impairment meets the ADA definition of disability, then s/he may be entitled to "reasonable accommodation." You state that you sent letters requesting reasonable accommodation to your employer. A request for reasonable accommodation should inform an employer that the individual needs some type of workplace modification because of a medical condition. It does not have to include the words "reasonable accommodation" or refer to the ADA.
After receiving a request for reasonable accommodation, an employer should respond by clarifying, if it is unclear, whether a medical condition meets the ADA definition of "disability" and what type of accommodation would be appropriate. Specifically, an employer and an employee need to determine whether there are any types of reasonable accommodations that would enable the employee to continue working at his/her current job. Possible accommodations include job restructuring, breaks, and providing equipment to remove or limit obstacles created
by physical limitations. An employer, however, never has to eliminate an essential function (i.e., a fundamental job duty) of the position.
If no effective accommodations are possible that would enable the individual to remain in his/her current job, then the employer must look for an appropriate vacancy to which the employee could be reassigned. The ADA requires that employers provide a reassignment to a new position, but only as a last resort if there are no accommodations that would enable an employee to continue performing the essential functions of his/her current position. An employer must look for a position that is currently vacant or would become vacant in a reasonable period of time, but it does not have to create a job or bump someone from a job to create a vacancy. (2) An employer should look for a vacancy that is as close as possible to the employee's original job, in terms of level of responsibility, pay, benefits, geographic location, and similar considerations. If no such vacancy exists, then the employer must look for a lower-level job that is as close as possible to the employee's current job. This could mean that an employee will have to accept the lower pay, benefits, etc. that may come with a lower-level job. An employer must offer the first available, appropriate vacancy it finds to the employee. The employee may accept or reject it, but if the employee rejects it, and it was the appropriate vacancy for the employer to offer, then the employer has met its reasonable accommodation obligation and s/he is not entitled to any other reasonable accommodation.
An employer can deny a requested accommodation if it can show that the particular accommodation would cause an "undue hardship" (i.e., significant difficulty or expense). This means that an employer cannot simply turn down a request but rather it must be prepared to show that the expense or difficulty involved is so high that it meets the "undue hardship" standard.
If you believe that you have been denied reasonable accommodation in violation of the ADA, you can file a charge (complaint) of discrimination with the local EEOC office. You can
reach that office by calling 1-800-669-4000. There are deadlines for filing charges so you may wish to check with the local EEOC office to ensure that you comply with filing requirements.
I am enclosing a copy of the EEOC's Enforcement Guidance on the ADA and Reasonable Accommodation. It will provide you with more information on different types of reasonable accommodations, the responsibilities of employers and employees, and the occasions when a reasonable accommodation may cause an undue hardship. You also may be interested in other EEOC documents related to the ADA, which can be found on the EEOC web site, www.eeoc.gov.
I hope that this information is helpful. This letter does not represent an official position of the EEOC.
Senior Attorney Advisor
1. Your letter also raises numerous workers' compensation questions. The EEOC does not enforce workers' compensation laws and therefore can offer no assistance on those issues.
2. When an employee with a disability needs a reassignment as a reasonable accommodation, but another employee is entitled to the vacant position at issue under the terms of a seniority system in a collective bargaining agreement, the EEOC position is that the employer and the union must negotiate to determine if it is possible to make the reassignment without causing an undue burden on the expectations of other workers. However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Delaware, has rejected this approach and stated that an employer does not have to violate a seniority system in a collective bargaining agreement to provide a reasonable accommodation. See Kralik v. Durbin, 130 F.3d 76 (3d Cir. 1997).
This page was last modified on April 27, 2007.
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