What laws require employers to accommodate disabled employees?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with a disability or serious medical condition that will all the employee to perform the job. Likewise, the Rehabilitation Act provides the same protections for employees working for federal agencies, employers receiving federal financial assistance, and federal contractors. The analysis of claims under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act are the same.
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How do I request a disability accommodation at work?
Under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, an employee can trigger an employer’s legal obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation by (1) making a specific demand for aa disability accommodation to the employer, and (2) demonstrating that the requested accommodation is reasonable.
Once the employee provides this information, the employer must initiate an informal, interactive process with the employee to discuss the employee’s specific limitations, explore potential accommodations, and select the most appropriate accommodation for both the employer and the employee. The employee must participate in the interactive process with the employer. Ultimately, the employer gets to choose which reasonable accommodation to provide the employee.
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What information do I need to provide to my employer to get an accommodation?
The employee must do more than simply ask for an accommodation. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit addressed this point and held there are two components to what information that the employee must provide to get a disability accommodation. First, the Court of Appeals held: “In most cases, to identify a disability, an employee must provide at least some information about how a physical or mental condition limits her functioning. … Accordingly, to put her employer on notice of her disability, an employee must identify—at least in broad strokes—the limitations her mental or physical condition imposes.” Owens v. Governor’s Off. of Student Achievement, 52 F.4th 1327, 1335 (11th Cir. 2022).
After providing information sufficient to identify the disability, Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals added:
Second, we believe an employee must provide her employer enough information to assess how her proposed accommodation would help her overcome her disability’s limitations. We have held that “[a]n accommodation can qualify as ‘reasonable’ … only of it enables the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.” Lucas, 257 F.3d at 1255–56 (citing LaChance v. Duffy’s Draft House, Inc., 146 F.3d 832, 835 (11th Cir. 1998)). The same accommodation might be appropriate for one disability and inappropriate for another, and the same disability may require different accommodations for different employees. See Ward v. McDonald, 762 F.3d 24, 31 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (“Few disabilities are amenable to one-size-fits-all accommodations.”). Accordingly, an employee must link her disability to her requested accommodation by explaining how the requested accommodation could alleviate the workplace challenges posed by her specific disability.
Id. at 1335.
Of course, the Court held that the employee is not required to state the obvious: “an employee confined to a wheelchair, for instance, would hardly need a doctor’s report to show that she needed help in getting to her workstation if this were accessible only by climbing a steep staircase.” Id. at 1336 (internal quotations omitted).
With this in mind, the employee’s notification obligation is only modest. To be sure, the law does not require an employee to provide detailed or private disability information to the employer. In Taylor v. Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 315 (3d Cir. 1999), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that “[d]isabled employees … may have good reasons for not wanting to reveal unnecessarily every detail of their medical records because much of the information may be irrelevant to identifying and justifying accommodations, could be embarrassing, and might actually exacerbate workplace prejudice.”
With this in mind, the notice threshold under the ADA requires employees to provide information that is more than simiply “vague or conclusory statements revealing an unspecified incapacity.” Owens at 1336.
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Can pregnancy or childbirth be considered a disability under the ADA?
No, neither childbirth nor pregnancy qualifies as a disability under the ADA.
What is an example of the employee’s obligation to provide notice for a disability accommodation request under the ADA and Rehabilitation Act?
Nicole Owens used her Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) rights to take time off due to a high-risk pregnancy. Owens informed her employer that she would need to work remotely for several months due to a complicated c-section childbirth. However, Owens did not give her employer any information regarding the nature of such complications or how teleworking would accommodate her childbirth complications.
As a result , the employer requested that Owens either provide additional information and medical documentation or return to the office. When Owens declined to do either, her employer fired her.
Owens sued for disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and wrongful termination. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her claims, holding that Owens did not meet her notification requirement:
Although Owens’s unspecified “childbirth-related complications” may have caused a disability, Owens never identified what that disability was. She points to her c-section and blood transfusions as information identifying a disability, but these are medical procedures and treatments, not disabilities. … As with childbirth-related complications, such procedures or treatments may cause a disability, but Owens failed to identify any such disability in her communications with GOSA. There is no obvious limitation on functioning that arises from having had a c-section or a blood transfusion five or six weeks earlier.
Having failed to identify a disability, Owens also failed to explain to GOSA why teleworking would accommodate her disability. Although her doctor’s recommendation that she telework qualifies as a demand for a specific accommodation, it does not explain how that accommodation would alleviate any physical or mental limitation.
Id. at 1336–37.
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Do I have a failure to accommodate or wrongful termination claim under the ADA?
Nothing you read online will be able to properly tell you what legal rights you have regarding the specific set of circumstances that you find yourself in. If you have a disability or serious medical condition; and you have been denied a workplace accommodation, fired, wrongfully terminated, or otherwise discriminated against or harassed, you should directly consult a disability discrimination lawyer. To get that help, call the right attorney at Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?; Spitz Lawyers Win $1.33 Million Verdict; Why Having Skilled Employment Attorneys Is Critical).
This employee’s legal rights website is an advertisement. The ADA disability accommodations, discrimination and wrongful termination materials presented to you here and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not to give you direct legal advice. If you have legal questions regarding you employment situation, it would be best for you to contact an ADA law firm to obtain advice with respect to disability discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, attorney, Brian Spitz or any individual attorney.