For some people with disabilities, disclosing a disability and requesting accommodations in an employment setting may be a new experience. This can often be the case for employees with disabilities entering the workforce for the first time or those returning to work having recently acquired a disability whose needs may have changed.
While it isn’t an employer’s responsibility to identify whether an employee needs an accommodation, disability-inclusive employers should aim to listen out for requests and be open to helping identify solutions that could help employees who have disclosed disabilities better perform their jobs.
Here are a few things for employers to keep in mind for job applicants or employees with disabilities who may be requesting reasonable accommodation:
- An employee may not have a specific accommodation in mind before making a request. As mentioned, employees with disabilities who are new to the workplace, have recently acquired a disability, or who have even experienced progression in disability-related needs, may not know exactly what accommodation(s) would help them perform their jobs more efficiently. If an employee specifies a need for a disability-related accommodation, an employer’s willingness to work together with the person to determine what would work to meet these needs can often yield the best results. This collaboration can also help ensure the employer does not experience undue hardship, as it provides opportunities to explore multiple options that could be more cost-efficient. Visit the Job Accommodation Network, the leading source on workplace accommodations, for countless accommodation ideas.
- A request may not include the word “reasonable accommodation.” This means that any communication, whether requested verbally or in writing, that specifies a need to provide or change something so a person with a disability can participate in a job interview or perform a job should suffice as an “accommodation request.” It’s important for managers and supervisors to listen and look out for these requests and follow-up in a timely manner.
- Employers can ask questions AFTER an accommodation request is made. As a rule, prior to disclosure, the only question an employer can ask is: “Can you perform the essential functions of your job with or without a reasonable accommodation?” This may vary if an applicant or employee has a visible disability and the employer has a reasonable belief that accommodations would be needed. Then, the employer will sometimes ask about accommodation needs.
After an employee discloses a disability and asks for a reasonable accommodation, an employer can ask for documentation of the disability to understand how best to accommodate it. However, employers are never allowed to disclose an employee’s disability to anyone, except in circumstances where management would need to know about how it could affect job performance, or how to assist in emergencies.