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Work How To Request And Negotiate An Accommodation At Work


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It is not unusual to need a change at work because of a treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation, doctor's appointments, or a health condition itself. Such changes are commonly referred to as an "accommodation."  It used to be that you had to rely on the good faith of your employer or as a right as a member of a union to get an accommodation. Today, you may also be entitled to an accomodation thanks to either federal or state law.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the basic law in this area. Since the other federal and state laws generally follow the pattern of the ADA, this discussion will focus on the ADA.

Before asking for an accommodation:

  • Check to see whether your employer is covered by the ADA or similar state law and if you are eligible for coverage. If you are a member of a union, check with your representative to see if you have additional rights. Even if you are not legally entitled to an accommodation, it is worth trying to obtain one to help you do your job. If you can't perform your job as expected without an accommodation you may well face being let go for poor performance. 
  • Even if covered by the law check to see if your employer is friendly to people with your health condition. If your employer is not friendly, you may have to negotiate for an accommodation to keep from being fired for not doing your  job. Still,it is good to know
  • Check with your medical  team to learn what to expect as a result of your condition and/or treatment, and how it is likely to impact your work.

Studies show that the majority of accommodations do not cost an employer anything. About l/3rd of accommodations have a one time cost of under $500.

As a practical matter, the key to getting the accommodation you need is to think about it as a negotiation which includes the following steps, each of which are described in other sections of this article:

Step 1. Think about what accomodations are reasonable and what to ask for. 

Step 2. Pull together information to support your request.

Step 3. Decide what you do and do not want to tell your employer.

Step 4. Decide who to ask.

Step 5. Be prepared to negotiate.

Step 6. Put your request in writing.

Step 7. Decide how to handle the negotiation.

After an accommodation is agreed to, follow-up by writing a letter to your employer that describes what was agreed to..

  • if the entire transaction was oral: The letter should  also ask that your employer sign a copy of the letter. For example, you can start the letter by saying something like: "Following is my understanding of the agreement between us."  End it with a sentence that reads: "Please signify your agreement to my understanding by signing, dating and returning a copy of this letter agreement to me." 
  • If your request was in writing: The confirmation letter can merely confirm with your employer that an agreement has been reached on the terms described in the (memorandum) dated XXXXXXX.  End it with a sentence that reads: "Please signify your agreement to my understanding by signing, dating and returning a copy of this letter agreement to me." . If the agreement was different than the accommodation requested, also spell out what was agreed to.

At the very least: If you don't write a follow-up letter, withn 24 - 48 hours after reaching an agreement, record in your files complete information about any verbal request made to your employer regarding an accommodation as well as your employer's response. It is not as good as a written agreement signed by your employer, but it would be a help in case there is a later question.

If ultimately your employer does not grant a reasonable accommdation, you can seek to enforce the law relatively easily by complaining to a governmental agency. If that doesn't work, you can go to court. (Be aware that if you do go to court, the action is a matter of public record which can be found by any potential future employers).

Keep in mind that your employer has to keep disclosure of your health condition confidential. While this is the law, you may want to let co-workers know what is going on so they don't become upset at the accommodation(s) you are given, and the additional work they may have to do as a result.


  • If the accommodation you seek is a reduction in the number of hours you work, check eligibility provisions of all benefits you have through work to determine which, if any, are affected by the lower number of hours. For instance, many employers only offer health insurance and/or disability income insurance to full-time employees. "Full-time employees" are frequently defined by the number of hours a person works for the employer - for instance, 30 hours a week.
  • When seeking protection under the ADA, your employer may request "sufficient documentation" to substantiate that you have a disability under the ADA and that you need the requested accommodation. "Sufficient" includes:
    • The nature, severity and duration of an impairment; 
    • The activity or activities the impairment limits; 
    • The extent to which the impairment limits the ability to perform the activity or activities;
    • Showing why a reasonable accommodation is needed. 
  • If your employer does not agree to the accommodation you need, you can ask for a mediator to help decide the issue. You can also file a complaint with the state fair employment agency or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can also contact a lawyer and start a lawsuit.

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