Does an ADA accommodation have to be the one an employee wants?

The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Texas Labor Code require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee to assist the employee in performing the essential functions of the employee’s job and/or access the workplace. These federal and state laws require employers to engage the employee in an interactive process to determine what needs the employee has that requires accommodation and what reasonable accommodations may satisfy the employee’s needs.

If the employee meets the requirements to receive a reasonable accommodation under these laws then the employer must provide an appropriate and reasonable accommodation for the employee’s disabilities. However, the law does not require employers to provide the accommodation the employee requested. 

Americans with Disabilities Act Reasonable Accommodation Requirements

The Americans with Disabilities Act (and Texas Labor Code) requires employers to offer accommodations in very specific circumstances. Not all disabilities, or perceived disabilities, will warrant an accommodation under the law. The employer may provide an accommodation but the employee may not be entitled to it.

If the employee fits the requirements to receive a reasonable accommodation under the ADA then the employer must work with the employee to identify a reasonable accommodation for the disability. (For more information on the particular requirements for the employee, see this page regarding disability discrimination.)

If the disabled employee can be accommodated then the employer must only identify an accommodation that appropriately provides the employee equal access to the workplace, equal access to the benefits of the job and the ability to perform the essential functions of his or her job. This obligation is tempered by the reasonableness under the statute.

An accommodation is reasonable if it accomplishes the requirements for the accommodation without an undue burden. Again the employer is free to go above its legal obligation and institute an accommodation that is an undue burden; but it does not have to subject itself to a greater burden than required.

The ADA sets a high standard for undue burden. The employer may have to accept a burden before it becomes “undue”.

The obligation is to provide a reasonable accommodation not the preferred accommodation

The employer is free to choose from any number of accommodations so long as the accommodation accomplishes the required objectives. The employer does not have to choose the employee’s preferred option although it may choose to do so. This is true even if the employer has multiple options to accommodate the employee.

The employer is only required to grant the employee’s preferred accommodation if that is the only reasonable accommodation.

Otherwise, the employer is given complete latitude to choose among satisfactory options. Employers often find it helpful to grant the employee his or her preferred accommodation to avoid liability for the decision. It is difficult to claim the employer discriminated against the disabled employee when it granted the employee the preferred accommodation.

Especially if the preference also comes from the disabled employee’s treating physician or therapist.

When employers choose an accommodation other than what the employee prefers, there is always a chance the employer will expose itself to a potential lawsuit under the ADA. The employer may have chosen an accommodation that does not adequately accomplish the required objectives or produces some other form of discrimination against the disabled employee by curing one problem but creating a new one.

Employers do not get a pass for well intentioned efforts to comply with the law but fall short. Even where the employer has complied by providing a satisfactory accommodation, the employee may disagree and file suit anyway. The cost of defending discrimination lawsuits is not cheap.

What Texas employees should do

If you believe you need an accommodation you should work with your physician or therapist to come up with acceptable accommodations. When your employer offers you an accommodation that is not among your preferred options, you should work with an employment lawyer to determine whether your employer has met the obligations of the ADA and see if the employer is willing to provide a preferable accommodation.

If your employer fails to provide an accommodation then you may have a claim for disability discrimination. An employment lawyer can assist you in evaluating and pursuing your claim.

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