How to Negotiate Reasonable Accommodations

by: Lindsey Montoya

WordItOut-word-cloud-923673In a recent blog post, we talked about how reasonable accommodations may be able to help an employee who has been diagnosed with cancer, work through their treatment or return to the workplace. This blog focuses on the process to ask an employer for a reasonable accommodation.

Once you’ve realized that a reasonable accommodation might help you to do your job or return to work, how do you actually get one?

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects eligible workers from discrimination in the workplace as well as give them access to reasonable accommodations.

When an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation, it triggers the beginning of the “Interactive Process.” While it sounds like a blood pact, or a bullfight, it’s really just open and honest rounds of communications between an employer and employee.

  • The Interactive Process begins by defining the situation. What are the essential functions and needed outcomes of the job currently?
  • Then, a needs assessment is performed. What limitations are determined? How will these limitations affect job performance?
  • Next, explore alternative placements and modifications. What aspects of the job could be modified? Are there products that could enhance job performance while bringing comfort to the employee?
  • Once modifications are determined, redefine the situation. What does the new role look like with accommodations?
  • Lastly, monitor the accommodations. Are they working for both employee and employer? If not, then reevaluate by running through the process again, and as many times as necessary. This last step is particularly important for someone with a cancer diagnosis. What you need in the way of accommodation when your treatment first begins might be totally different than what you need three months down the road.

Flexibility is key during the interactive process. Both employers and employees need to keep an open mind and a constant stream of communication during the process.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for employees and employers to keep in mind while navigating the interactive process:

Employees Employers
Read through documentation of the process to make sure it’s accurate Assume verbal communication is binding or enough Document the process in the form of a memo Leave the employee’s viewpoint out of the memo
Be open to alternative forms of accommodation Get stuck on only one solution Be open to discussing ALL proposed alternatives Just say “no” immediately
Try out accommodations that your employer offers, even if they are not your first choice Just say “no” immediately Offer alternatives if the employee’s proposed accommodation doesn’t seem possible Just try one solution and give up if it doesn’t work
Share enough information about your medical condition and needs to show why you need accommodation Forget that a supervisor may need to go to HR for assistance in giving you an accommodation Ask for relevant medical information Have preconceived notions about an employee’s limitations
Promptly give employers the medical certification they request Be offended that your employer needs medical certification before accommodating Be patient when waiting for health information from physicians Make the employee feel untrustworthy if there is a delay or question
Make sure to fill out an accommodation request in writing Just demand an accommodation, be patient Ask employee to fill out an accommodation request Take the request lightly—it’s important to the employee
Think through what accommodations would help you to be the most successful at your job Be afraid to honestly communicate your needs in person—make the time Make an appointment to meet in person with the employee Brush off the employee’s request—show them you care
Be patient while your managers are learning how to accommodate you Get angry if they don’t know the laws—help to educate them Make sure managers and team leaders are properly trained on providing accommodations Be afraid to admit if you’re unsure of the law—just rectify that by using resources to educate yourself and staff
Keep your employer apprised of any changes in your needs Forget to share your preferences for privacy and disclosure with anyone you talk to at work Be prepared to make modifications as things change Be rigid—try to be as flexible as possible during the process

The process can be tricky to negotiate, but sticking through it provides many benefits. Accommodating employees while battling cancer is not only beneficial to the employee, it is also cost-saving to the employer.

According to a 2014 Job Accommodation Network (JAN) study, over half of accommodations cost an employer nothing, and 36% have a one-time cost that is typically $500. That can pale in comparison to the cost of finding and training a new employee. In fact, many employers are eager to provide an accommodation so that they can retain a qualified employee or to increase the productivity of that employee.

For more information about the reasonable accommodations process, here is a complete list of JAN publications:

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