The guide to reasonable accommodation in the workplace

The guide to reasonable accommodation in the workplace
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In 2022, just 21% of people with disabilities in the US were employed. That’s the highest the figure has been since monitoring began in 2008.[1]

Most persons with disabilities have a lot to offer at work. The benefits of inclusivity in the workplace are well documented: It leads to a wider range of perspectives, increased innovation, and higher morale.

But employees with disabilities need reasonable accommodation at every stage of their employee life cycle. Otherwise, they face barriers that keep them – and their ideas, insights, and unique skills – out of the workforce.

As a human resources professional, you’re well-placed to correct the disability employment gap within your company. So how can you implement reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities in your workplace?

Read on to learn what reasonable accommodation means, what your legal obligations are, and how to empower your employees at every stage of their time with your company.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is any change to a job task, hiring process, or work environment designed to give a disabled person equality of access and opportunity. 

It should protect the employee’s dignity and aim to integrate them into the workplace, rather than segregate them from their colleagues. It’s a crucial element of disability inclusion at work.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations are:

  • The provision of assistive technologies, such as screen readers

  • Changes to workstations

  • Changes to office buildings or infrastructure

  • Changes to methods of communication or information sharing

  • Flexible work schedules or part-time job-sharing arrangements

  • Remote or telework options

  • The provision of additional paid time off to support health care appointments

Remember, every disabled person has a different type and level of need, so create an effective accommodation on a case-by-case basis. 

Reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities: Who’s included?

Reasonable accommodations exist to make the workplace more inclusive for employees with disabilities. But which disabilities need personal assistance in the first place?

There’s no definitive answer to that question because people experience disabilities in different ways.

But in principle, people experiencing any type of disability can benefit from reasonable accommodations at work. And it’s worth your time to empower your staff to do their best work.

Here are some common disabilities to consider when thinking about reasonable accommodations:

  • Physical impairments, such as a missing limb

  • Sensory impairments affecting hearing or sight

  • Fine motor skill disabilities, like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy

  • Intellectual disabilities, like Down syndrome

  • Neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder

Reasonable accommodation laws across the world

Individuals with disabilities or functional limitations have fundamental human rights, which are enshrined in laws all around the world through federal agencies. Many of those laws address their right to equality and dignity at work. 

Let’s review the laws addressing reasonable accommodation in a range of different countries.

Global laws

The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.[2] 

Its ratification status checker shows that the convention has been ratified in 186 countries, with eight additional signatories (including the US). Only four countries have taken no action on this treaty.

The UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities has been ratified in 186 countries - ohchr.org

Article 27 of the convention stipulates that state parties have an obligation to ensure persons with disabilities have access to reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

Laws in the US

In the US, the federal government signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990. Title I of the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to support individuals with disabilities at work.

However, this obligation only applies to employers who have 15 or more employees. Smaller employers do not have to accommodate their employees with disabilities.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a government agency that enforces laws about workplace discrimination, like the ADA. 

Under the ADA, employers can deny an accommodation if it would cause them undue hardship to implement, like if it is:

  • A fundamental change to the nature of the business

  • Unduly expensive

  • Extensive

  • Substantial

  • Disruptive

Laws in the UK

Under the Equality Act 2010, UK employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for staff with disabilities. 

These adjustments must be made to any elements of the job that put a qualified employee with a disability at a “substantial advantage” relative to other staff. If an employer fails to meet this obligation, it’s considered unlawful discrimination.

It is lawful for employers to make job offers contingent on candidates passing an occupational health check. If the results find a candidate has a disability that may impact their ability to do the job, their employer must decide whether they can accommodate that candidate.

If they determine they can’t, they can lawfully withdraw the job offer.

Laws in the EU

Under principle 17 of the European Pillar of Social Rights, persons with disabilities have the right to a work environment adapted to their needs.

In 2021, the European Union adopted a 10-year strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities. It’s informed by the EU’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[3]

Failure to meet the obligations of these laws is considered discrimination and is legally actionable.

Laws in Canada

Canadian human rights law (including the Accessible Canada Act) sets out employers’ duty to accommodation. Under this duty, employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, provided it does not cause undue hardship.

However, when a worker’s accommodation request is deemed to cause undue hardship, Canadian employers have to consider alternative accommodations instead.

Employees also have a responsibility to provide enough information to help employers support them. This usually takes the form of medical information.

Laws in Australia

Under the 1992 Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), it’s illegal for Australian employers to discriminate against staff with disabilities. If an employer fails to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee, it’s considered indirect discrimination under the DDA.

States and territories within Australia have adopted their own laws to protect people with disabilities. In Victoria, for example, employers are required to offer reasonable accommodations under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

Laws in Japan

In Japan, employees with disabilities are protected by the Act to Facilitate the Employment of Persons with Disabilities

This law was implemented in 1960, but it was revised in 2008 to require employers to provide equal opportunity to employees with disabilities during the hiring process.

It also requires employers to provide adequate facilities to support employees with disabilities.

Unlike most Western laws, Japanese disability law requires employers to hire a certain quota of persons with disabilities. The government reassesses the quota every five years to account for changes to the employment rate.

7 reasonable accommodation examples across the employee life cycle

The laws protecting persons with disabilities and their rights at work don’t always provide a clear roadmap to implementing reasonable accommodation. 

You need to take the initiative on how to offer accommodations throughout an employee’s time with your company.

We’re using the employee life cycle model to frame these examples because it covers every step in the employee-employer relationship. If you understand how to support employees with disabilities at every stage of the life cycle, you’re in the best position to build a truly inclusive work environment.

With that in mind, let’s explore what you can do at each step of the life cycle.

Reasonable accommodation examples at a glance

Stage

Why accommodation matters

What you can do

Attraction

Broadens your access to talent by encouraging candidates with disabilities to apply

Make your web presence accessible, partner with disability advocacy groupsProactively offer interview accommodations

Recruitment

Makes a great first impression on candidates with disabilities by showing them you understand their needs

Consult all qualified applicants about accommodations before interviews as part of the job application process, provide adjustments during interviews and pre-employment testing

Onboarding

Helps employees feel welcomed and supported from the beginning of their time with your company

Provide mentors to ease the transitionOffer orientation programs, open conversations about reasonable accommodations early

Retention

Limits the costs of employee turnover by giving your employees a working environment that doesn’t harm or alienate them

Establish employee rights groups to advocate for employees with disabilities

Development

Supports long-term retention by giving employees with disabilities equitable access to training and upskilling opportunities

Offer training in different formats, provide captioning or transcription during training, train all your staff in disability awareness and inclusion

Offboarding

Transitions workers with disabilities out of a workplace smoothly and without unnecessary disruption

Provide adjustments during exit interviews, communicate clearly throughout the offboarding process

Separation and advocacy

Ensures your company maintains strong relationships with all its former staff

Stay in touch after offboardingReach out to former employees with new opportunities

Seven accommodation examples across the employee life cycle graphic

1. Attraction

If you want to hire more qualified individuals with disabilities, you need to show them you care about supporting them. That’s the attraction stage of the employee life cycle: encouraging applications for vacant positions.

Until you know more about the needs of the people you’ll be interviewing, it’s hard to offer specific accommodations. However, you can still be proactive about engaging candidates with disabilities:

  1. Audit your web presence for accessibility by making sure you offer alt text descriptions on images, screen-readable text on web pages, and closed captions on videos

  2. Partner with a local disability advocacy group or job accommodation network to advertise roles and connect with potential applicants

  3. Note in job descriptions that you are prepared to offer reasonable accommodations during interviews

Walgreens offers two training and job coaching programs for potential applicants with disabilities, in partnership with external agencies.[4]

Trainees who perform well are allowed to bypass some of the standard hiring requirements for jobs within the company, giving them direct job opportunities.

2. Recruitment

The recruitment process is usually the first direct contact candidates have with your business. It’s important to make a great first impression on applicants with disabilities because it may affect their decision-making if you decide to offer them a job.

Reasonable accommodations also make the hiring process fairer. They create a level playing field for every candidate to show themselves at their best.

Before you begin interviewing, make it an interactive process and contact all candidates with a survey requesting information on any accommodations they need at their interview. Give them plenty of time to notify you of what they need.

Then you need to follow through. Whether you’re offering extra break times, different assessment formats, or a remote interview, there are many ways to offer accommodations during recruitment.

EY’s neurodiversity program uses hiring processes that don’t penalize candidates for traits that have no impact on their work performance.[5] 

The interview process itself builds in plenty of unstructured time, and hiring managers can adapt it to meet candidates’ specific needs.

3. Onboarding

The upheaval of onboarding can be daunting for people with intellectual or neurodevelopmental disabilities, many of whom find it hard to adjust to major changes.

Any company with an interest in hiring workers with disabilities needs to take that into account. Otherwise, you risk alienating your new staff and wasting money on employee turnover.

It’s important to provide employees with resources like building tours and assigned mentors. But conversations about types of accommodations should be a standard part of onboarding.

This takes the burden of initiating those conversations off your employees and shows you take a proactive approach to inclusion.

Microsoft is known as a disability-friendly employer, and it provides all employees with plenty of support during onboarding. The company offers mentors, campus tours, and building orientations so new staff can adjust to their work environment.[6]

4. Retention

Without reasonable accommodations, most office environments are a nightmare for autistic people. The autism employment gap is a recognized problem – even when autistic workers have the skills for their job duties, they need extra support to stay in the role.

The same is true of any disability. If you want to retain your employees, you need to meet their needs by offering accommodations like:

  • Flexible working hours and locations

  • Adjustments to workspaces, including the provision of private offices

  • Ergonomic or assistive furniture and devices

  • Permission to bring service animals to work

One way is to establish an employee rights group. These groups are a valuable way to listen to employee voice. They also empower employees to understand their rights and request what they need.

Google has a Disability Accommodations team to ensure every employee has what they need to do their job. The team also works toward enabling everyone to participate equally in Google’s activities and opportunities.[7]

5. Development

Training and upskilling are increasingly important to employees and employers. But if your employees with disabilities can’t get the most out of your company’s development opportunities, they risk being left behind.

That isn’t fair to anyone. So how can you accommodate all your employees in your training and upskilling processes?

  1. Offer training in a range of formats

  2. Provide captions and transcriptions on any training sessions

  3. Ensure training uses inclusive language and takes all employees into account

You can also accommodate your workers with disabilities by providing training opportunities to all staff. For example, Accenture’s Indian offices provide modular training in Indian Sign Language so that Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees feel more welcome.[8]

6. Offboarding

Employee offboarding is the process of easing a departing employee’s transition out of your company. It’s meant to end the relationship between employee and employer on a positive note, tying up any loose ends while leaving scope for reconnection in the future.

Leaving a job comes with a lot of upheaval. That’s why it’s important for employers to create an offboarding experience that’s as smooth as possible for employees.

Accommodate your staff by communicating exactly what they should expect from the offboarding process. Setting clear expectations makes change more manageable and less unsettling for neurodiverse workers.

You should also draw on the accommodations you make during recruitment to support your staff during exit interviews. Recruitment interviews and exit interviews have a lot of challenges in common, so use what you’ve already learned to make exit interviews easy for all parties.

7. Separation and advocacy

The goal of the offboarding process is to turn your former employees into advocates for your employer brand. If your employees aren’t happy when they leave your company, they can:

  • Affect your ability to recruit the best

  • Damage your remaining employees’ morale

  • Hurt your reputation with clients

When you fail to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, you risk all of those consequences. As the corporate world becomes more socially conscious, it’s more important than ever to behave responsibly and ethically toward your marginalized staff.

Otherwise, they may tell other people how they have been treated – and harm your reputation in the process.

At this stage, the best accommodation is to provide reasonable accommodations beforehand. If you’re proactive and thoughtful about supporting your employees at every previous step in the process, you won’t need to worry about advocacy.

You can also maintain good relationships with former employees by keeping in touch with them about future opportunities. This shows how highly you have valued their past contributions.

5 best practices for creating reasonable accommodation policies

All those examples are great, but how can you get the same results at your company? 

Follow these best practices to improve your disabled employees’ experience at your business.

Reasonable accommodation best practices at a glance

Best practice

Why it matters

Listen to your employees

Reasonable accommodations are difficult to standardize

Communicate your process clearly

Transparency and clear guidance make it easier for employees to request what they need

Go beyond the minimum legal requirements

Legal protections for employees with disabilities often fall short, and stepping up shows employees you care

Adopt flexible working practices

Almost all staff with disabilities benefit from flexibility in work hours, locations, or approaches

Administer skills tests with reasonable accommodations

An inclusive, accommodating hiring process enables you to benefit from a broader range of talent

1. Listen to your employees

One of the key principles of disability awareness is if you’ve met one disabled person… you’ve met one disabled person. Everyone is different, so employers can’t implement a standardized set of accommodations that work for everyone.

Instead, you need to listen to your employees when they tell you what they need.

This might involve listening to employees individually when they come to you with requests for accommodations. Don’t let your preconceived ideas about disability prevent you from hearing your staff when they explain their needs. After all, not every medical condition is visible.

Or it might involve paying attention to employee rights groups, unions, diversity and inclusion advocates, or other parties within your organization. Listen to the people who have relevant expertise around disability, and you’ll be in a better position to support your staff.

2. Communicate your process clearly

An effective reasonable accommodation policy should be clear about how employees can request accommodations. But what is a policy worth if employees don’t know it exists?

This is especially important for employees with disabilities since many of them have preferred forms of communication – and may find other approaches inaccessible.

It’s time to improve communication around policies in your workplace. Follow these steps to guarantee everyone knows about your reasonable accommodation process (and how to use it if they need it):

  1. Include it in your onboarding process and training materials for new hires

  2. Give copies to existing employees and require them to sign an affidavit stating they’ve read it

  3. Publicize the policy to workers via email shots

  4. Have managers talk about the policy with staff

3. Go beyond the minimum legal requirements

As we’ve already seen, laws around reasonable accommodation programs fall short. And employees notice when their employers are only doing the bare minimum to support them.

If you adhere to the letter rather than the spirit of disability inclusion laws, you risk alienating and losing your employees with disabilities.

In particular, the ADA in the US exempts small companies from the need to provide reasonable accommodations. As a smaller employer, you can set yourself apart in the race for top talent by doing what you can to accommodate your workers.

Here are some other steps you can take to go beyond the bare minimum and truly support your staff with disabilities:

  1. Proactively ask employees about their needs (provided you do so lawfully)

  2. Set aside a substantial budget to support reasonable accommodations

  3. Don’t rely solely on medical documentation – trust employees to know what they need

  4. Be receptive to employee feedback on your disability inclusion practices

4. Adopt flexible working practices

Flexible work is great for workers with disabilities. It enables them to respond to changes in their day-to-day needs by working from home or adjusting their hours – empowering them to manage their health and wellbeing effectively.

Flexible work is popular, too. In fact, a Remote.com study shows 74.2% of employees value flexible hours as a workplace benefit.

Get ahead of requests for flexible working practices as a reasonable accommodation by implementing a company-wide flexible working policy

5. Administer skills tests with reasonable accommodations

Skills-based hiring is a fairer, more equitable approach to hiring than CVs. But not all candidates can access our pre-employment tests in their standard format. For example:

  • Candidates with vision impairments may need tests presented in large print or in Braille format

  • Candidates with fine motor skill disabilities may need to answer questions verbally or use a scribe instead of writing or typing

  • Candidates with learning disabilities may need extra time to complete a test

  • Candidates with long-term digestive conditions may need extra break time to use the bathroom

You can address all these concerns and more by providing accommodations when administering skills tests.

During the assessment setup process for TestGorilla tests, we ask candidates to explain how their condition might affect their ability to take the test. Candidates can choose whether or not we share this information with employers.

In most cases, we enact the necessary accommodations right away. Where an accommodation is particularly involved or complex, we ask the candidate’s permission to talk to the employer about how to support the candidate.

Accommodations are an important way to ensure skills-based hiring does what it’s intended to: Deliver a hiring process that gives candidates a chance to show what they’re capable of.

Offer reasonable accommodation at every stage of your employees’ careers

Employees with disabilities need reasonable accommodation to thrive. These adjustments are meant to give all your employees the same opportunities to succeed in their roles.

Of course, your company has a legal obligation to accommodate workers with disabilities. But providing reasonable accommodations comes with amazing benefits in its own right.

Companies that accommodate their staff enjoy lower turnover, higher morale, greater diversity, and better reputations. Reasonable accommodations are more than worth the investment.

To hire managers with the skills to lead and support diverse teams, use TestGorilla’s Leadership and People Management test.

Sign up for a free 30-minute live demo with a specialist member of our team to find out how our software can revolutionize your hiring process.

Sources

  1. Gonzales, Matt. (March 8, 2023). “Employment Rate Rising for People with Disabilities”. SHRM. Retrieved May 6, 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/employment-rate-rising-for-people-with-disabilities.aspx 

  2. “Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. (December 13, 2006). United Nations. Retrieved May 6, 2023.https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-persons-disabilities 

  3. “Union of equality: Strategy for the rights of persons with disabilities 2021-2030”. (n.d.). European Commission. Retrieved May 6, 2023. https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1484&langId=en

  4. “Disability Inclusion”. (n.d.). Walgreens. Retrieved March 6, 2023. https://www.walgreens.com/topic/sr/sr\_disability-inclusion.jsp 

  5. “Neurodiversity-Powered Transformation”. (n.d.). EY. Retrieved May 6, 2023. https://www.ey.com/en\_us/innovation/neurodiversity-powered-transformation 

  6. “Our accessibility approach”. (n.d.). Microsoft. Retrieved May 6, 2023. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility/approach 

  7. “Accommodations at Google”. (n.d.). Google. Retrieved May 6, 2023. https://careers.google.com/stories/accommodations-at-google/ 

  8. “Inclusion of Disabled at the Workplace”. (n.d.). Accenture. Retrieved May 6, 2023. https://www.accenture.com/in-en/about/inclusion-diversity/pwd

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