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ADA Reasonable Accommodation: Checklist and Best Practices

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) entitles employees with a mental or physical impairment to certain job protections. But since the ADA interactive process is different for everyone, it can be helpful to have an ADA reasonable accommodation checklist to make sure your employees and human resources team are on the same page.

Here’s how to respond to an ADA accommodation request and a 6-step checklist to ensure a fair and effective accommodation process.

Who Is Eligible for an ADA Accommodation?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law passed in 1990 with the aim to improve accessibility in the workplace and other areas of life. It applies to employers with at least 15 employees, and to employees with a medical condition that interferes with the performance of one or more major life activities.

This includes common physical disabilities, such as difficulty walking or seeing, as well as mental disabilities, including:

The ADA applies to both short-term and long-term disabilities, but not temporary injuries or illnesses. For example, an employee may be eligible for reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, epilepsy, or paralysis, but not for a “minor, nonchronic condition of short duration,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The ADA isn’t the only employment law, however. Employees may be protected by other laws, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides up to 12 weeks of leave for certain medical conditions affecting the employee or a family member.

What Is an ADA Reasonable Accommodation?

An ADA accommodation is a modification to a job or work environment in a way that allows an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job. An accommodation could take the form of:

  • Job restructuring or reassignment
  • Modifying work equipment
  • Allowing remote work
  • Providing a separate workspace
  • Adjusting the employee’s work schedule
  • Providing accessibility aids (such as braille or large print materials)
  • Allowing a support person or service animal at work

A workplace accommodation must be “reasonable” in that it doesn’t cause an undue hardship to the employer, such as requiring excessive financial resources. However, according to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), most accommodations aren’t unreasonably expensive. A survey of 720 employers found that:

  • Half of accommodations cost nothing
  • The median one-time cost was $300
  • The median annual cost was $3,750

Employees aren’t required to disclose their disability during the hiring process, but they can request an accommodation during an interview, assuming they meet the criteria of the job description with or without an accommodation.

6 Steps to the ADA Reasonable Accommodation Process

ADA reasonable accommodation checklist: injured woman using her laptop for a video call

Sometimes, accommodating an employee’s disability is straightforward. For example, an employee who uses a wheelchair may need an ADA-accessible workspace. But in other cases, the type of accommodation they need may be less obvious.

Follow this 6-step ADA reasonable accommodation checklist to find out more about an employee’s needs and explore possible accommodations.

1. Acknowledge the request

An employer’s obligations under the ADA don’t start when an employee says the exact words “reasonable accommodation request.” They start as soon as you become aware of a disability that’s affecting an employee’s ability to perform their work.

If an employee tells their manager, “I’m having trouble sleeping due to anxiety,” or “I’m experiencing side effects from my new medication,” follow up to find out if they have a qualifying disability under the ADA. You aren’t obligated to provide an accommodation right away, but you are obligated to initiate the accommodation process.

Be proactive about identifying situations that might call for ADA accommodations, and remember that employees may not put their request in writing, or even be aware that they qualify for ADA accommodations in the first place.

2. Ask for documentation

The next step in the accommodation process is to request medical documentation from the employee’s health care provider. This medical information verifies that the employee has a qualifying disability and identifies which job tasks need to be modified.

This step isn’t a requirement, and it may not be necessary for straightforward requests for ADA accommodations. Still, it’s a good idea to maintain a paper trail and show that you’re doing your due diligence as an employer.

Store this information separately from other personnel files in order to comply with ADA confidentiality requirements. Use a digital HR management platform like Pulpstream to allow employees to upload their own documents safely and securely.

3. Engage in the interactive process

The ADA interactive process is the centerpiece of the ADA reasonable accommodation checklist. It’s what ensures that the reasonable accommodation is satisfactory for both the employee and the employer. 

The interactive process involves:

  • Reviewing the employee’s job description to determine which of their duties are essential and which are marginal functions
  • Brainstorming accommodation ideas with the employee
  • Asking the Job Accommodation Network or the employer’s health care provider for input on more complex cases

The ADA interactive process is collaborative, which means it has to happen with the full participation of the employee, not behind closed doors in the HR department.

4. Research and choose an accommodation

Next, do some research into possible accommodations. This could involve estimating the cost of an accommodation — such as modified work equipment — or finding out how long it would take to implement the accommodation.

If multiple accommodations would have similar costs and benefits, allow the employee to choose the one they think would be the most effective. If one accommodation would be easier or more cost-effective than another, the employer can choose which one to implement — as long as they’re willing to re-evaluate the effectiveness later.

5. Apply the accommodation

Implementing an accommodation may sound like the easy part, but it’s important to do it carefully to ensure a smooth transition. This might include:

  • Providing the employee with new training materials so they can effectively use their new equipment
  • Informing their supervisor about their modified work schedule so they can make any necessary changes
  • Coordinating with third-party service providers, such as a job coach or a sign language interpreter

In some cases, the accommodation might be temporary while you research a long-term solution. If the accommodation is only being implemented on a temporary or trial basis, document the process and clearly communicate how long the trial period will last.

6. Review the accommodation

Finally, follow up with the employee to ensure the accommodation is still meeting their needs. Some reasons why an accommodation may no longer be effective include:

  • The job description or workplace have changed
  • The employee’s abilities or limitations have changed
  • The cost of implementing the accommodation has changed and it’s now an undue hardship for the employer

Monitor the accommodation over time and adjust or replace it as necessary. Be sure to document any changes in your HR management system.

6-Step ADA Reasonable Accommodation Checklist

Every employee’s situation is different, and each accommodation request needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Use this 6-step ADA reasonable accommodation checklist to ensure you meet your obligations under federal employment law:

  1. Acknowledge the request
  2. Ask for documentation
  3. Engage in the interactive process
  4. Research and choose an accommodation
  5. Apply the accommodation
  6. Review the accommodation

Track ADA Accommodations With Pulpstream

Co-workers looking at a laptop

Eligible employees with a physical or mental impairment may be entitled to workplace accommodations under the ADA. Reasonable accommodations range from modified computer equipment to an adjusted work schedule or leave of absence. Although an employer can refuse an accommodation request because of “undue hardship,” most accommodations are straightforward and inexpensive to implement.

Manage your return-to-work and ADA interactive processes with Pulpstream to reduce costs and optimize outcomes for you and your employees alike. Integrate multiple tools and communication channels — such as DocuSign, email, and SMS — and streamline complex HR processes with automation and simplified case management.

Request a demo today to see how Pulpstream can empower your HR team.