D. C. and Maryland Employment ADA Disability Claims Attorney
Also Serving the Frederick, Howard and Anne Arundel Counties, Silver Spring and Glen Burnie, Columbia Areas
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and its state counterpart, Title 20 of Maryland’s State Government Article, employers in Maryland have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with known disabilities. When they fail to do so, disabled employees can seek remedies under the ADA.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides several protections for disabled workers. In addition to prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of disability, the ADA also requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to disabled workers when such accommodations are necessary to the performance of essential functions of their jobs.
The ADA’s disability accommodation provisions apply to employees with both physical and mental limitations. While employers generally only have an obligation to accommodate known disabilities, some courts have ruled that employers must make a reasonable effort to determine the appropriate accommodation when an employee attempts to communicate a disability, even if the communication is not entirely clear.
What is a “Reasonable Accommodation” Under the ADA?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a reasonable accommodation is:
“any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities. . . . Reasonable accommodation also must be made to enable an individual with a disability to participate in the application process.”
Whether an employer’s particular effort to meet a disabled employee’s (or applicant’s) needs qualifies as a reasonable accommodation will depend upon the specific circumstances involved. What qualifies as a reasonable accommodation for one employee may be insufficient for another; as a result, employers in Maryland must work closely with their employees, human resources personnel, and advisors to make sure that their efforts satisfy their legal obligations.
For example, depending upon an employee’s unique needs, the following may or may not constitute reasonable disability accommodations under the ADA:
- Adapting training materials, policies, and procedures to meet disabled employees’ needs
- Making available ergonomically designed tools and equipment
- Modifying workplaces for ADA compliance
- Offering modified or flexible work schedules
- Providing alternate or modified seating and workspaces
- Providing alternate means to complete application processes and examinations
- Reassigning disabled employees to alternate positions
- Restructuring job responsibilities
The “Undue Hardship” Exception
Under the ADA, an exception exists where providing a reasonable accommodation would result in “undue hardship” to the employer. Like the process of identifying a reasonable identification, identifying what constitutes undue hardship is not a straightforward assessment, but rather a multivariate analysis that requires weighing a variety of different facts and circumstances. Factors to be considered in determining whether a disability accommodation would result in an undue hardship include:
- The financial cost of the accommodation
- The employer’s financial resources
- The nature of the employer’s business, including size and structure
- The costs previously incurred in attempting to provide reasonable accommodations
However, the fact that one form of accommodation presents an undue hardship does not mean that there are no alternatives available. If one option presents an undue hardship, the employer has an obligation to look for alternatives. In addition, the EEOC mandates that employers consider alternate sources of funding (such as tax credits), and they must give disabled employees the opportunity to either provide or assist in covering the cost of the original accommodation, as well.
Disability Accommodation Compliance is a Fine Line
As you can begin to see from the issues discussed above, employers must often walk a fine line when it comes to meeting their obligations regarding disability accommodations under the ADA. While employers must make reasonable efforts to accommodate their employees’ needs, in doing so they must be careful to avoid other issues that can lead to ADA violations. For example, while employers are permitted to question applicants and employees regarding their ability to perform job-related functions, any questions regarding an individual’s disability are flatly prohibited.
Understanding employees’ rights and employers’ responsibilities under the ADA requires comprehensive knowledge of the law and the ability to apply the law to individualized circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Having practiced employment law in Maryland for more than 17 years, attorney Joyce E. Smithey brings a wealth of experience to representing employers and employees in matters involving disability accommodations. If you are an employee and you believe that you are entitled to an accommodation, or if you are an employer and you need guidance on ADA compliance, contact Ms. Smithey to discuss your situation today.
Contact Joyce E. Smithey | Maryland ADA Compliance Lawyer
To discuss your situation with attorney Joyce E. Smithey in confidence, please call (410) 269-5066 or request an appointment online. With offices in Annapolis, Ms. Smithey represents employers and employees statewide.