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The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) states that employers with five or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for people with physical or mental disabilities to apply for jobs or perform essential functions of their jobs unless providing the reasonable accommodation would cause an undue hardship. If you believe your employer failed to provide what should be a reasonable accommodation, you will want to contact a California employment law attorney.

While there are several types of reasonable accommodations that employers can make, there are really only two kinds of undue hardship for employers: companies incurring significant expenses or reasonable accommodations simply being too difficult to fulfill. Failure to provide a reasonable accommodation could constitute an Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 violation.

California Reasonable Accommodation Laws Explained

California Government Code § 12940 imposes an affirmative duty of reasonable accommodation on any employer that learns of an employee having a known disability. In such situations, employers have a legal duty to reasonably accommodate disabled employees and do so in a manner that allows the worker to perform their essential functions of the position.

The duty will apply unless the accommodation imposes an undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodation duties do not apply to California employers with fewer than five employees.

Once an employer learns of an employee’s disability, state law requires an employer to enter into an interactive process with an employee and do so in a reasonable effort to help find appropriate accommodation. In certain cases, the communication between an employer and a worker may go through a third party.

An interactive process refers to the communication between an employer and employee that helps the employer find the proper accommodation and ensures that the accommodation assists the employee in performing the essential functions of their job. When a qualified employee requests a reasonable accommodation, an employer has to respond to it in a timely fashion and act in good faith.

Even when an employee does not directly request a reasonable accommodation, an employer should still provide the accommodation as long as a disability is observable or someone informs the employer of the disability. Employees are able to give bosses a list of requested accommodations, but employers can only request medical documentation when the reason for such an accommodation request is not obvious.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations can include a litany of possible actions by employers. Some of the most common kinds of requests generally include:

  • Changing job duties
  • Buying equipment to accommodate an employee’s disability and increase accessibility
  • Job restructuring or alterations in work schedules to change an employee’s essential functions
  • Providing leave for medical care
  • Making changes to a work environment to allow for a wheelchair-accessible work site
  • Changing work schedules
  • Reassignment of an employee to a vacant position
  • Relocating a work area
  • Bringing an assistive dog to the office
  • Providing mechanical or electrical aids
  • Modifying the job application process for qualified applicants with disabilities
  • Rearranging an employee’s workspace to make it accessible for people with disabilities.⁠
  • Making schedules more flexible or allowing for “flex-time”
  • Granting an unpaid leave of absence
  • Permitting employees to work from home⁠
  • Relaxing work restrictions for disabled employees
  • Changing the time in which the duties of the employee’s position must be completed.
  • Allowing the employee to bring an assistive animal to the workplace⁠

Employers Make These 8 Common Mistakes 

Sometimes, trying to make the right accommodation can be confusing, and in making a mistake, an employer opens their business up to litigation. If your employer has made one of the following errors, you may want to seek an employment lawyer to learn more about how to proceed.

1. An employer forgot that a request for accommodations was made

An employee may go to a supervisor for help and make a request for reasonable accommodations. However, a supervisor may not always remember that a request was made and might forget to report the information to Human Resources or the appropriate parties.

2. An employer requests additional medical information

It is against federal and state law to inquire too deeply into an employee’s personal or medical matters. While an accommodation will impact a business, it is not necessary for the employer to invade the employee’s medical privacy rights in California.

3. An employer unnecessarily shares personal information that was relayed to them

Perhaps an employee has a particular medical condition that requires special accommodation. Only a manager should know this information and no one else. 

An employer may accidentally share this information that can be used in a damaging way against the employee requiring reasonable accommodations. 

4. An employer avoids dialogue with an employee because a reasonable accommodation cannot be made

An employer should not avoid dialogue with an employee because a reasonable accommodation cannot be made. There are times when an employer may try to accommodate an employee, yet no reasonable accommodation exists. In this case, an employer should still see what adjustments can be made to allow the employee to work:

  • Can an employee work part-time? 
  • Can they be reassigned to another position? 
  • Can they be given a leave of absence

If none of these things work, then an employer should communicate with an employee to inform them of the lack of reasonable accommodations and that no modifications can be made.

5. An employer avoids making an accommodation because such a request has never been fulfilled before

Perhaps this accommodation can be a first, but not having done something before should never be a reason prohibiting the company from trying something for the first time if it is within the employee’s rights.

6. An employer does not document the accommodation or the process of making an accommodation

Without a record of the accommodation, there might not be evidence of the employee’s request and work situation should leadership change in the company. Employers should document everything in writing to stay consistent.

7. An employer liberally interprets the idea of “undue hardship”

While making accommodations for employees can be difficult, difficulty alone isn’t a determining factor for rejecting a request. A company must try to create an accommodation and not use the idea of “undue hardship” so broadly that it becomes easy to reject a reasonable request.

8. Denying a request because an employee did not give a solution

When an employee provides specific solutions to help them perform their jobs, the process can go smoother. However, an employee may not always have a solution to their problem. As a result, an employer should be prepared to make accommodations whether an employee has provided a solution or not.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with a California Employment Law Attorney

Do you think that your employer has failed to fulfill your reasonable accommodation request in California? Mara Law Firm has been representing workers in all kinds of legal actions for more than a decade, so we can offer experienced legal counsel in these kinds of matters.

Our firm strongly believes in standing up for worker rights, so you know we will fight hard for you. Call us at (619) 375-0288 or (855) 965-0295 or contact us online to set up a free consultation so we can take a better look at your case and help you understand what legal options you might have.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney David Mara who has more than 20 years of legal experience in employment law.

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