With workplaces reopening in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, people with all types of disabilities are wondering if they can ask their employer for what they need. Here are five common ADA accommodations and how the law has treated them.
The good news is that, with some thought, many of these adjustments will benefit everyone—creating a safer and more productive work environment. Workplaces, like architecture, can be designed to minimize barriers.
UNIVERSAL DESIGN: The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.
1. Adjusted Work Times
Adjusting work hours can help people with many kinds of disabilities, and can cut down on workplace crowding. If schedule adjustments are possible for the job, they are a reasonable accommodation. Even adjusting the schedule for a less crowded commute may be reasonable.
2. Adding Protective Equipment
Courts have said protective equipment—like masks and gloves—can be reasonable to keep people with disabilities on the job and safe, even if the employer generally does not provide or allow it. Many employees are asking to use their own equipment, and this is likely to be a reasonable request. Indeed, usually the employer will have to provide reasonable protective equipment, or even modify the workspace.
3. Fixing Mask Policies
On the other hand, some people with disabilities need adjustments to masks or other protective equipment that employers may want to mandate for all workers. For deaf people, people with sensory sensitivities or claustrophobia, and people with breathing impairments, for example, masks can be a problem.
The key is to accomplish the goal of keeping everyone safe. With some thought, that can be done in ways that work for everyone.
4. Work from Home
5. Temporary Leave
As a last resort, workers can simply ask to take time off. Disability law usually doesn’t require pay during the leave, although other laws, insurance, or contracts may. The key to a temporary leave request is to make it reasonable—clear communication and an expected time frame are important. Employers have to be able to take care of business while the worker is out.
These are just a few examples—many other adjustments may be reasonable, depending on the situation. A couple more points:
Employers can ask for reasonable medical documentation. Here is the EEOC’s guidance.
The law calls for an “interactive process” when a worker requests an accommodation. That means an employer must work with the employee to figure out what is possible. It also means the employee must work with the employer—the law does not always require the employer to give the first accommodation requested. Now more than ever, let’s come together and find ways for all of us to get back to work.
- Job Accommodation Network
- EEOC COVID-19 ADA Guidance
- National Disability Rights Network: Find Help in Your State or Territory
- Q&A on Disability Discrimination Now that COVID-19 Is Here (from Disability Rights Texas)
 See, e.g., Lyons v. Legal Aid Soc‘y, 68 F.3d 1512, 1514 (2d Cir. 1995).
 See, e.g. Barry v. Illinois Dep’t of Corr., No. 114CV03199MMMTSH, 2019 WL 1083759, at *5 (C.D. Ill. Mar. 7, 2019).
 See, e.g. EEOC v. Ford Motor Co., 782 F.3d 753, 761 (6th Cir. 2015) (“[R]egularly attending work on-site is essential to most jobs.”).
 See, e.g. Masters v. Class Appraisal, Inc., No. 217CV11283LJMEAS, 2019 WL 4597365, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 23, 2019); Boltz v. United Process Controls, No. 1:16-CV-703, 2017 WL 2153921, at *10 (S.D. Ohio May 17, 2017).
About the Author: Maia Goodell is a civil rights lawyer committed to community lawyering for people and organizations of people with disabilities.