Reasonable Workplace Accommodations for Disabilities: Addressing Changing Needs in Rhode Island

As an employee, you are expected to perform the tasks and responsibilities associated with your position. For instance, your job description may state that you will need to drive a company vehicle from time to time or lift a certain amount of weight. However, if you suffer an injury that interferes with your ability to fulfill some of these requirements, your employer is legally obligated to provide you with reasonable accommodations so that you can continue to work comfortably and successfully. Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, your employer may adjust the scope or nature of certain job duties or even reassign you to a different role in order to accommodate your needs. Moreover, employees with a permanent disability have the legal right to request reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Both state and federal laws protect the rights of employees with disabilities.

Unfortunately, not all employers act in good faith or comply with an employee’s request for reasonable accommodations. If your workplace is refusing to provide you with the reasonable accommodations you’re asking for, whether temporary or permanent, you have the right to take legal action to hold your employer accountable and rectify this issue. Enlisting the guidance and support of a seasoned and highly qualified Rhode Island employment law attorney is the best way to maximize your chances of obtaining a fair and favorable outcome. Let’s take a closer look at the process for requesting reasonable accommodations in the workplace and the steps you can take to exercise your legal right to obtain these accommodations.

The Laws Addressing Reasonable Accommodations at Work

First, it’s helpful to understand the various legal protections available to workers with temporary or permanent disabilities. Federal and state laws offer protections for workers with disabilities, so if your employer is denying your request for reasonable accommodations, you can work with your employment lawyer to understand the nuances of these protections and the potential legal remedies available to you.

Federal Protections for Workers With Disabilities

At the federal level, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to qualified workers with temporary or permanent disabilities so that they can perform their assigned duties safely and comfortably. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines reasonable accommodation as “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.” In other words, the ADA compels employers to honor an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation—failing to do so violates this federal law and puts the employer at risk of legal action or other penalties.

Legal Protections for Workers With Disabilities in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Civil Rights laws prohibit employers from discriminating against workers based on their disabilities and compel employers to offer reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. These protections apply to several activities, including the following: The employer’s recruitment, advertising, and processing of employment applications; the hiring, promotion, transfer, layoff, termination, and rehiring process; determining job assignments, organizational structures, position descriptions, and seniority lists; honoring leave of absence, sick leave, or other types of leave requests; and setting rates of pay or establishing any form of compensation. Reasonable accommodations must be provided to the same extent under state and federal law. If you have reason to believe that your employer is denying you the reasonable accommodations you are entitled to receive, reach out to a knowledgeable and caring employment law attorney to discuss your legal rights and options.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodation in the Workplace

The term “reasonable accommodation” can be somewhat challenging for employers and workers to define and interpret. The EEOC provides several examples of requests that may qualify as a reasonable accommodation: “acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; job restructuring; part-time or modified work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials or policies; providing readers and interpreters; and making the workplace readily accessible and usable by people with disabilities.” A few specific examples include: remote work, flexible start times, more frequent breaks, office equipment such as standing desks, closer parking spots, and unpaid medical leaves (including beyond the 12 weeks required by FMLA). Generally speaking, any request for workplace accommodations is considered reasonable, as long as it relates to the disability and an essential job function, unless the request would impose an undue hardship on the employer. An undue hardship is usually defined as any accommodation request that would require “significant difficulty or expense” on the part of the employer. For example, if the proposed accommodation requires a substantial financial investment or it would fundamentally alter the nature and structure of the workplace, the employer may claim that it presents an undue hardship. In these cases, the employer must work with the employee to identify another accommodation that will not pose such a hardship. Indeed, employers must engage in an interactive dialogue to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made. An employer cannot simply deny an employee’s request for an accommodation without considering effective alternatives. However, this obligation goes both ways. Employees must also engage in good faith to determine an effective reasonable accommodation. Employees are not entitled to the accommodation they want if other effective accommodations are available. These negotiations can become tense and challenging, but you do not have to advocate for your best interests on your own. Reach out to a trusted and highly skilled Rhode Island employment law attorney for support.

Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation at Work

Most requests for workplace accommodations are reasonable and do not require significant costs or hardship on the part of your employer. In fact, a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Labor found that nearly half of workplace accommodations have no cost. Additionally, over 68 percent of employers stated that the accommodations they made were either very effective or extremely effective. However, workers seeking a temporary accommodation or permanent accommodation may encounter resistance from their employer at some point. Employment discrimination laws can be nuanced and challenging to navigate on your own, which is why it’s highly recommended that you seek the counsel of a highly qualified and caring employment lawyer to help you understand your legal rights. Working with an experienced lawyer can play a pivotal role in winning cases related to reasonable accommodations in Rhode Island workplaces by offering legal expertise in assessing the necessity and effectiveness of accommodations, ensuring compliance with state and federal laws, and advocating for the rights of employees throughout the process.

If you need help obtaining reasonable workplace accommodations or if your employer is not responsive to your request, the dedicated legal team at Sinapi Law Associates, Ltd., is ready to assist you. We invite you to call our office today at (401) 739-9690 to get started with an experienced and caring Rhode Island employment law attorney.

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