Reasonable Accommodation for Disability

This page covers California’s reasonable accommodation laws for employers and disabled employees. When does your boss owe you an accommodation? The point of this page is to help non-lawyers understand how employers should act when faced with a disabled employee. This is one of the main tenants of CA’s disability discrimination law. If you read this page and believe that your employer terminated you because he didn’t want to accommodate you, you should contact an employment lawyer.

This page covers:

  • Reasonable accommodation basics
  • Reasonable accommodations for disabilities
  • Exemptions to reasonable accommodations
  • What remedies are there for a lack of reasonable accommodation?
  • Expected recovery for a lack of reasonable accommodations
  • The statute of limitations
  • Costs for an employment lawyer
  • Consulting an employment lawyer
  • Reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs

This video was made by a colleague of Mr. Odell & Ms. Freeze. It explains the basics of CA’s reasonable accommodation law. But the below information is even better!

Reasonable Accommodation Basics

Sometimes an employee who suffers from a disability finds that they are unable to perform the essential functions of their job. But with a small accommodation, the disabled employee is able perform the job just as good as before.

A “reasonable accommodation” is when your employer makes an adjustment to your work schedule, workload, or duties to work around your disability. So long as the accommodation does not create an undue hardship on the employer, corporations are required to give their disabled employees reasonable accommodations. This is required by California’s Fair Employment & Housing Act (“FEHA”). In addition to requiring reasonable accommodations, CA’s FEHA also prohibits retaliation against any employee who makes a request for a reasonable accommodation.[1]

California disability discrimination law defines a “reasonable accommodation” as “modifications or adjustments that are effective in enabling an applicant with a disability to have an equal opportunity to be considered for a desired job, . . . an employee to perform the essential functions of the job the employee holds or desires, or . . . to enjoy equivalent benefits and privileges of employement as are enjoyed by similarly situated employees without disabilities.” California Code of Regulations § 7293.6(p)(1).

You can find a page on reasonable accommodation examples here. It details a lot of the common accommodations that corporations give disabled employees.

Physical and Mental Disabilities

One of the keys to this law is that you must request a reasonable accommodation. If you do make such a request, your employer is required “to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process . . . to determine effective reasonable accommodations.[3] Failure to engage in the interactive process can be brought as a completely separate claim to disability discrimination and the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.[4]

With regards to pregnancy-related disability, CA’s FEHA requires the same reasonable accommodations so long as they are requested by an employee on the advice of her health care provider.[5] On top of that, if a company has a policy or program in which temporarily disabled employees are transferred to less strenuous or hazardous jobs, a pregnant worker’s request for such a transfer cannot be denied.[6]

Exemptions to the Accommodation Rules

CA FEHA protections apply to almost everyone, but as with all things, there are exceptions. Most of these exceptions are enjoyed by non-profit corporations and associations are not considered an “employer” under FEHA. Moreover, if you employer is tiny, this law may not apply.

Moreover, the accommodation must not be unduly burdensome on the employer. You can’t ask the employer to spend buckets of money to accommodate you. You can’t ask them to go to the moon and back. The accommodation must be reasonable. What is “reasonable?” That is largely up to the subjective determination of the jury, judge, and prior case law.

What Remedies Are Available for a Accommodation Claim?

If your attorney prevails in your case, you are able to recover an amount equal to the income you lost due to your termination. For example, if you made $100,000 per year and were unemployed for half of a year due to your termination, you may be entitled to recover $50,000. This is an oversimplification but point is that lost wages are a significant component of damages.

You may may also recover for the emotional distress you have suffered due to the unlawful treatment. These awards may include compensation for anxiety, depression, and mental anguish. Because the lawmakers understand that this pain and suffering may start well before you were terminated, and continue after, emotional distress awards try to compensate for both past and future distress.

Reasonable accommodation cases also contain a powerful tool to punish the bad guy: attorney’s fees. Many reasonable accommodation cases have low economic and emotional distress damages, so the attorney fee provision dramatically bolster’s the value of the claim.

Lastly, though they are extremely rare, if your attorney proves that your employer participated in truly despicable behavior you may be awarded punitive damages. These damages are awarded so as to deter companies from engaging in this same kind of bad behavior in the future.

Typical Recovery for Reasonable Accommodation Claims

The vast majority of cases do not go to trial. They settle. While this is great for a quick resolution, settlements are bound by confidentiality agreements meaning that the presence of figures to calculate an average is practically non-existent. Our experience suggests that most reasonable accommodation cases settle for under $50,000. That being said, you should expect to recover a certain amount as every case is different.

Reasonable Accommodation | Los Angeles Wrongful Termination Lawyer

The Statute of Limitations

Generally, you have one year from the failure to provide the acommodation to contact the DFEH and obtain a right-to-sue letter. From the point you receive your right-to-sue letter, you have one year to file your case in court or arbitration. In most instances, you will want to have your attorney take care of the right-to-sue letter, but if you took the initiative to obtain it yourself it is perfectly fine.  Just be sure to make your attorney aware of it when consult with them.

One thing you need to be aware of regarding the statute of limitations is that public entities have a different time length to file these various complaints.  For some entities it may be as short as six months! Because of this possibility, you should contact a reasonable accommodation lawyer as soon as possible.  Our office, like most employment firms, provide all potential clients with a free consultation.

Costs for an Employment Lawyer

Reasonable accommodation lawyers are paid on a contingency fee. This means that your lawyer will not receive a penny unless they win or settle your case. You and your attorney will agree in writing upon a percentage which will be the amount your attorney will be paid. The best part about this is that you don’t pay dime out of pocket! Furthermore, your attorney will take care of all expenses of your case, and recover those from the settlement or verdict.

When to Consult a Reasonable Accommodation Lawyer

If you feel like you were terminated, but could have completed the functions of your job with a reasonable accommodation, call a Los Angeles lawyer. Our office offers free consultations to all callers without any obligation.

Religious Beliefs & Reasonable Accommodations

CA’s FEHA’s prohibition against religious discrimination states that the employer must explore “any available reasonable alternative means of accommodating the religious belief or observance . . .” held by the employee.[7]  Some ways in which the employer may accommodate such religious beliefs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Keeping the employee in the same position, but adjusting the work conditions
  • Allowing the employee to transfer to another job that is comparable, and in which conflicts with their beliefs are less probable
  • Changing the employees work duties so that they do not participate in the conflicting activities
  • Having the conflicting duties performed by another person or at another time

Again, if you feel your employer could have given you an accommodation, but didn’t and fired you, give our office a call.

[1] Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(l)(4) & (m)(2)

[3] Cal. Gov. Code § 12940(n)

[4] E.g. Swanson v. Morongo Unified School Dist. (2014) 232 CA4th 954, 971

[5] Cal. Gov. Code § 12945(a)(3)(A)

[6] Sasco Elec. v. California Fair Employment and Housing Comm’n (2009) 176 CA4th 532, 543

[7] Cal Gov. Code § 12940(l)

[8] Cal. Gov. Code § 12926.2(c)