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The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar laws require that the accommodation you need to allow you to do your job has to be "reasonable." If the request is not reasonable, your employer does not have to agree to give it to you.

"Reasonable" is not about whether a particular accommodation will cost the employer money. Just about every accommodation will have some cost to it. Since the employer pays for the accommodation, the question is instead whether the request would cause an "undue hardship" on the employer. "Undue hardship" differs according to the job and the employer's particular situaiton. If an accommodation would cause an "undue hardship," it's not "reasonable."  There is no hard and fast definition of "undue hardship."  Instead, "undue hardship" is determined on a case-by-case basis, with particular emphasis on the job and the particular employer's financial and related situation.

Determining what is a "reasonable accommodation" for your particular job is a three step process:

Do not limit your ideas by deciding on your own that a particular cost is an "undue hardship" on your employer. You may be surprised at what your employer is willing to do to keep you at work. That's where good negotiating comes in. 

It is worth keeping in mind that employers are encouraged to try to agree to an employee's request and to follow a good faith standard when negotiating.


  • There is no right or wrong time to ask for an accommodation. However, standard advice is to ask for an accommodation as soon as you think you need it. If your health condition affects your work, and you haven't asked for an accommodation, your employer can fire you for performance issues.
  • For information about how to request and negotiate a reasonable accommodation, click here. 

For related information, see:

For information about additional legal protections at work, click here.

What Are The "Essential Functions" Of Your Job?

The definition of "essential functions" depends on the particular job you are hired to do.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC),  the federal agency responsible for enforcing the EEOC, following are some guidelines to help you determine what the "essential functions" of your job are:

  • Look at the job description. Although it only serves as a guide, it at least provides an idea of what your employer considers to be essential.
  • Is there a collective bargaining agreement that controls your job? If so, how does the agreement describe your job?
  • Make a list of all the various parts of your job. How much time per month is spent on each function?
  • What would happen if you don't perform a particular function?
  • What experiences have people who have worked the job in the past had?
    • Did they do each of the functions you do?
    • What happened if they didn't do the functions you can't do?
  • What are the experiences of people who are doing similar jobs at present? What parts of their job appear to be essential and which ones aren't?

A few examples may help you determine the essential functions of your job:

  • A secretary: The essential part of the job may be typing, filing and answering the phone. Getting your boss's coffee is not essential.
  • A warehouse-person: Driving a forklift may be the main (essential) function of the job. On the other hand, if most of your time is spent on the computer tracking supplies, and creating and mailing packages, and other employees drive forklifts almost full time, perhaps driving the forklift is not essential to your job.
  • A chemist: If you are a chemist, and only about 5% of your job involves communicating with the public, you can perform the essential functions of your job if you can do your lab work, even if you can no longer communicate with the public.

What Accommodation Or Accommodations Do You Need?

To determine what accommodations would work for you, it would help to answer the following questions:

  1. What limitations are you experiencing?
  2. What limitations are you likely to experience in the near future? Your medical team can help answer the question about what to expect as a result of your condition and/or treatment, and how it it is likely to impact your work.
  3. How do your limitations affect your job performance?
  4. What specific tasks that you do are difficult or impossible because of the limitations?
  5. What accommodations could reduce or eliminate the limitation?
  6. What are the details of each possible accommodation?

Keep in mind the question is what accommodation is needed to permit you to do your job -- not what you would prefer in an ideal world. Of course, if you can convince your employer to let you do your job as you prefer on the basis that it will make you more efficient without regard to the Americans With Disabilities Act -- go for it.

Don't worry about whether the accommodation would be an inconvenience to the employer. Every accommodation is an inconvenience to the employer.

If you have a person in the company who acts as your advisor, speak with him or her about potential ideas. If you don't have an advisor, consider seeking one. In addition to discussing your particular situation, your advisor will hopefully know, or can find out, about other accommodations your employer has provided in the past. To learn more, see Work Advisor.

To help think about accommodations that would work for you, and the kind of detail to think about, consider the following examples. If you still have questions, consider speaking with an advisor at work and/or contacting the Job Accommodation Network (JAN): offsite link

Deadline extension: Do you need deadlines extended because while you can do your work, you now work more slowly?

  • If so, extend the deadline from what to what?
  • What will the result be for the employer if you're allowed the extension? For instance, if you work on an assembly line, if you were granted an extension of time, the entire line would be slowed down unless you agreed to work longer hours and could stockpile the part.

A shift in responsibility:

  • For instance, a teacher oversees recess which is an exhausting part of his job. An accommodation would be to shift responsiblity for supervising recess to another teacher while letting him focus on the core job of teaching.
  • If there is a job opening that would be easier for you to do, shifting to the new job could be a reasonable accommodation. Asking an employer to create a new job would not be reasonable. (For example, a firefighter who develops breathing problems, cannot reasonably fight fires. On the other hand, he or she could become a trainer or a dispatcher, or even an exterior fire fighter who does not have to wear a mask.

Job transfer: Would it help to be transferred to a less physically or mentally demanding job?

  • If so, are there any open?
  • Would you need more training or education for any of those jobs? If so, at what expense and how long would it take?

According to the law firm of Fisher & Phillips, LLP, as of 2011, there is a split among the various federal district courts whether an employee who seeks reassignment ot a new position as a reasonable accommodation should have to compete with other people for the job, or whether you should be given preferential treatment and automatically be assigned - even above more qualified applicants. If this question is relevant, find out the law in your area by asking a local disease specific nonprofit organization (including organizations for diseases other than your own) or by contacting a local employment lawyer.

Leave: Would you like unpaid leave, other than leave to which you may be entitled under a law such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

  • If so, is there a trained person who could do your job?
  • If not, how long would it take to train a person, and how much would that cost the employer?

Your work space: If you are having difficulty, perhaps changes can be made which will make it easier to do your job and to make it as comfortable as possible. For example:

  • If it is difficult to bend down to get files, perhaps the file cabinets or drawers can be moved.
  • Move the phone to within easy reach.
  • Ask for special furniture if needed.
  • Switch work spaces if necessary.
  • If you are experiencing diarrhea, ask that your work space be moved to a location which is close to the bathroom.
  • If you have to print documents frequently, ask for a personal printer for your work area.
  • If you are nauseous, ask that your work area be moved away from the cafeteria.

Work from home part time or full time:

  • Do you want to work at home a few hours a day, a few days a week, or all the time?
  • Does it make sense to work at home? For instance, a surgeon cannot work at home.
  • If so, you may need at home: a dedicated telephone line that nobody uses for their own personal use; a desk, a file cabinet, and a computer with an internet connection. 
    • What will be supplied by your employer, and what do you have to supply?
    • Click here for additional considerations about working at home.

Work schedule:

  • Do you need shorter hours on the job? Every day or just a few days a week? For a period of time or indefinitely? Can you make them up by working different hours?
  • Can you work from home - at least part of the day, or one or more days a week? (See the document in "To Learn More" for information about working at home).

Fatigue or Stress that wears you down: If you are experiencing fatigue on an ongoing basis, consider a two hour lunch break so you have time to take a nap and reenergize for the afternoon. You could work an extra half day to make up for the lost time.

Job Share: If your limitation looks as if it will be permanent leaving you able to work, but not full time: is it possible to share your job with someone else who also only wants to work part of the time?

If you need help thinking of additional ideas that could work for you, you can search through a database of accommodations by clicking here offsite link.


  • If you choose an accommodation that involves doing less work, your employer has the right to pay you less. This is not likely to occur with a minor shift in job duties. However, it could occur, for example, if you give up your supervisory responsibilities in order to reduce stress.
  • If you want shorter hours, be aware that there could be a hidden trap. If the reduced hours are accompanied by reduced pay, that is usually rather straight forward and the results are apparent. Less apparent is that reduced hours may also result in a reduced disability benefit if you later leave work on disability, and a reduced payment to your retirement plan.

If the reduction in hours is significant enough, you may even lose your right to health benefits or be forced to pay for it yourself under COBRA. For example, many companies do not give health benefits to part time workers. They usually define "part time" by the number of hours an employee works per week.

To Learn More

More Information

Family Medical Leave Act COBRA

Related Articles

Work: At Home

Is The Accommodation You Seek Reasonable?

The key to determining whether an accommodation is "reasonable" is whether it would impose an "undue hardship" on your employer. "Undue hardship" is not a concept set in stone. It depends on your particular employer and the particular site at which you work. It takes into account:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation.
  • In relation to the size, resources, nature and structure of your employer's operation.

For example, if steps are a problem for you and you work at a site with 5,000 other employees, General Motors may be required to put in an elevator. On the other hand, a small employer may not even be required to put in a ramp if it would be too expensive relative to cost and the size of their business. It may even be an undue hardship for General Motors to put in an elevator if you work in a small branch office of four employees on the second floor of a two story building.

Letting you come in an hour late every morning may cost an amount equal to your compensation (salary + benefits) for five hours, but it would only involve some minimal administrative cost if you stayed an hour later each night.

If you have a question about whether the accommodation you want is "reasonable" (or to put it another way, not an "undue hardship" on your employer), call Job Accommodation Network (JAN) at 800.526.7234. JAN was set up by the government to help employers, but it also helps employees as well. Their advice is free. For more information on JAN, see offsite link

As mentioned above, even if all the accommodations you think of seem unreasonable, it may still be worth discussing the situation with the Human Resources department or your boss if that's appropriate. There may be an idea you haven't thought of.

To learn how to negotiate for an accommodation, click here.

To Learn More

More Information

Negotiating An Accommodation

How Much Will The Accommodation Cost The Employer?

Think about how much the accommodation would cost your employer. Don’t worry about cost to the penny. Think about the ballpark. $50? Hundreds? Thousands?

Studies show that over 50% of accommodations do not cost an an employer any money. If there is a cost, it is generally minimal. Most accommodations that do cost an employer money cost less than $500.

If there is a cost to an accommodation, it has to be paid by the employer, not the employee.

To Learn More

How Can I Get Help To Identify Possible Accommodations That Will Work For Me?

If you need help identifying alternative accommodations for your situation:

  • Contact Job Accommodation Network (JAN). 
    • JAN was set up by the government to help employers, but it also helps employees as well. 
    • JAN's advice is free. You can find recommendations by disease and by limitation through JAN's SOAR program (Searchable Online Accommodation Resource): offsite link Click on "Search". Then click on your disease. Then the limitations you are experiencing. 
    • If you don't find what you need, or want to discuss your ideas, caontact JAN at offsite link or call 800.526.7234.
  • Your doctor, nurse, social worker, and/or local specific disease organization may be good sources to help you think through an accommodation.