How long does an employer have to accommodate a disability? Let’s find out together

how long does an employer have to accommodate a disability

Providing reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities is not just the law but the proper thing to do in today’s diverse and inclusive workplaces. To foster an inclusive and welcoming workplace, employers must know the criteria and considerations for accommodating employees with disabilities.

The following article will look into “How long does an employer have to accommodate a disability?” by looking at the legal framework, the interactive process, and what affects the accommodation duration.

But first, we need to understand what constitutes reasonable accommodations.

Selective focus of african american employee giving papers

What Is Disability Accommodation Or Reasonable Accommodation?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “reasonable accommodations” are any changes made to a workplace that enable disabled workers to carry out their duties.

Modifications may be made to any of the following elements

  • Job restructuring
  • Job Duties
  • Workspace
  • Part-time to modified work schedules
  • Modifying equipment
  • Reassignment to a vacant position
  • Training materials
  • Providing readers, interpreters, or alternative formats
  • Workspace policy or rules

In other words, a reasonable accommodation is any modification to the application or recruiting process, the position, or the work environment that allows a qualified applicant with a disability to perform essential job functions and enjoy equal employment opportunities.

These reasonable accommodations do not impose an unreasonable burden or directly threaten the disabled employee. The aim is to keep things as open and accessible as possible so that people with disabilities can do their jobs to the best of their abilities, ensuring inclusivity in the workplace

Who is Covered under the ADA Rules? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies the accommodation rules to all employees and employers, including private employers with 15 or more employees, state and local government employers, labor organizations, and employment agencies.

The law protects individuals with disabilities who, with or without reasonable accommodations, are otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of their job. 

Also, Title I of the ADA prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including recruitment, advancement, compensation, and benefits.

Who Qualifies For Reasonable Accommodation?

To qualify for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a person must be “regarded as having a disability” because of “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits their major life activity or activities.

And what are the major life activities? Nearly everything, such as walking, working, thinking, communicating, or performing any kind of manual task.

These reasonable accommodation processes must be distinct from work benefits typically available to all employees; reasonable accommodations are for those with impairments to do their duties.

The Employer’s Duty To Accommodate

Employers must provide reasonable adjustments for eligible persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other laws worldwide. These adjustments let workers carry out their duties with equal access without creating unnecessary difficulties for their employers, who must treat the employee with a disability like other employees, such as

  • privileges
  • benefits, and
  • time off work.

For example, suppose you are disabled and need time off work to recover from your condition. If your company has a history of accommodating employees’ requests for days off, they must do so for you as well. It would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act to deny you sick leave because of your impairment.

For as long as the employee is considered a qualified individual with a disability and the condition persists, the employer must continue to make reasonable adjustments. It means that, depending on the specifics, reasonable accommodations are for an indefinite period. 

A video showing the disability accommodation laws and regulations.

Length of Employer’s Obligation to Accommodate

The ADA requires that employers make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers for as long as the employee needs them to do their job successfully, and doing so would not impose an undue hardship on the company’s operations.

The length of an employer’s responsibility to accommodate a disabled employee might vary based on several circumstances, including the type of the condition, the exact adjustments necessary, and applicable rules and regulations. 

Here is an example of a few situations: 

Cologne, City in Germany

Temporary Disability

Suppose the employee sustains a temporary disability, such as a broken leg. Their working conditions, assigned tasks, or vacation time may be modified so that they may take care of their health.

Until the individual has recovered enough to return to work without particular accommodations, the company must accommodate the disability.

Chronic Conditions

Employees with long-term diseases or serious health conditions like diabetes or epilepsy may be entitled to work schedule modifications, medical break times, and other reasonable accommodations.

In most cases, employers should continue providing reasonable accommodations to employees during their entire employment as long as the need persists and the adjustments do not impose an undue hardship on the business.

Ongoing Disability

Accommodations may change over time for those with progressive disabilities like multiple sclerosis. As the employee’s disability changes, the employer must provide appropriate accommodations to ensure eligible employees can continue performing the job’s essential functions.

Permanent Disabilities

If an employee develops or has a permanent disability, such as a mobility impairment, the company must provide reasonable accommodations for the duration of their employment. Examples include handicapped-accessible buildings, optimal doorway widths for wheelchair users, modifying equipment, and accommodating schedules.

Aging Workforce

Some employees may develop age-related disabilities that require accommodations as they age. The company must provide it as long as the individual stays employed and needs the modification to perform the job’s essential functions.

Workload reduction, ergonomic tools, and reorganized duties are all examples.

As long as the employee suffering from an impairment is employed and requires accommodation to perform essential work duties or enjoy equal employment opportunities, the employer typically has an ongoing responsibility to provide the accommodation.

Reasonable Accommodation Process

According to the ADA and the EEOC, each accommodation request must be evaluated on its own merits on a case-by-case basis. A manager or the human resources department often handles accommodation requests. However, it varies from company to company.

The employer and the employee must be on the same page and willing to work together to provide reasonable accommodations. Employees often know the best accommodations due to their disability barriers. At the same time, employers are familiar with organizational systems, policies, and practices and can find the best way to make the job work well for someone with a disability.

Requesting Reasonable Accommodation In the Workplace

The disabled worker must first disclose their condition to their employer, and he doesn’t have to utter a mystical phrase or fill out a mountain of paperwork for accommodation requests. 

The request should detail the condition and its impact on job performance and be submitted in writing, with a copy saved for future reference. It should be explicit and direct, even without referencing the ADA or “reasonable accommodation.”

For example, simply letting the supervisor know that one has to come in late regularly so that one may receive treatment for a chronic health problem constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation. In addition, a friend, family member, or legal agent can request it on your behalf.

An employer can even request medical evidence from a healthcare provider to verify the necessity for accommodation if a disability is not immediately apparent, just to verify information related to the request for accommodation.

A video showing tips for reasonable accommodation requests, such as simply asking, providing medical documents, negotiating with the employer, and using JAN.

The procedure through which an employee requests a reasonable accommodation from their employer is called an interactive process, an honest discussion or informal negotiation to choose the most suitable modification. 

An employee describes their disability and how it affects their ability to perform their job. Then, an employer engages in a dialogue to collect information about the limitations, job requirements, and potential accommodations. This process may include discussions, evaluations, and investigating various accommodation options. It also considers whether a vocational rehabilitation agency may provide external financing and whether the accommodation’s cost is suitable for state or federal tax credits or deductions for undue hardship.

If reasonable accommodations are not possible due to a disability, one should not give up hope and look into the possibility of moving to workplaces with suitable seated positions. Please refer to our article Sit Down Jobs Tailor Made for the Disabled for a detailed analysis of available options. 

Using JAN as a Tool

If you still have questions, the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) of the United States Department of Labor operates the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). This service offers free, private, one-on-one consultation to employers, employees, service providers, and others on accommodations at work.

The Employers’ Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act is a helpful summary of common problems and potential solutions provided by JAN. The guide is regularly updated as new situations are brought to their attention. One can contact JAN by calling 1-800-526-7234 or 1-800-ADA-WORK (1-800-232-9675).

Legal Limits on Accommodation Duration

If the cost of making the necessary adjustments will cause the company undue hardship or significant difficulty, the employer is not compelled to grant the accommodation. What constitutes undue hardship can vary but typically entails considerable difficulty, nature, expense, and impact on the employer.

The small video by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) shows what can be considered undue hardship as per law.

Examples of undue Hardships

A disabled employee of a small, family-owned restaurant with limited financial resources requests a pricey renovation to make the bathroom accessible. The renovation cost would be so high that it would jeopardize the business’s financial stability, constituting an undue hardship.

Discrimination For Receiving Reasonable Accommodations

Any employee who has experienced disability discrimination because they requested or received a reasonable accommodation is welcome to contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is a government institution enforcing the ADA and comparable laws.

The initial step in filing a claim with the EEOC is to contact the agency’s regional field office. The employee can also initiate the procedure by visiting the EEOC’s website.

Employees should include dates, locations, the names of those involved, and proof of their discrimination complaint. The EEOC will collect evidence, interview relevant parties, and examine relevant records as part of its inquiry.

If the EEOC finds discrimination to have occurred, they will try to negotiate a settlement with the company. If a settlement is not possible, the EEOC may bring a lawsuit on the worker’s behalf.

Real-Life Examples Of People Who Got Reasonable Accommodation at Work

There are a lot of notable real-life cases of people who were able to acquire reasonable accommodations.

Let’s explore some of these incredible stories below

Mark, who uses a wheelchair, asked his employer to install a ramp at the entrance to the office to facilitate wheelchair access. The organization responded favorably to his request, making the workplace accessible.

Sebestian, a worker with a vision impairment, requested the workplace provide him with an additional workstation lamp, a magnifying lens to assist with reading documents, and screen reading software for their computer.

A user mentioned on a forum that he worked as a restaurant server, had been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth, and must wear special shoes. He then requested that the accommodations allow him to wear the specific shoes. The employer listened and let the user wear shoes of any type as long as they adhered to the same color scheme as the standard dress code.

Disabled freelancer working in a cafe

John, a deaf government employee, requested a sign language interpreter for the required training sessions. John could participate, ask questions, and contribute to discussions because the organization provided the accommodation, allowing him access to essential workplace information and professional development opportunities, fostering workplace inclusivity and performance excellence.

Jacob shared on a forum that he worked as an engineer at an office and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease later. He requested that his office provide reasonable accommodations for a quiet, distraction-free office setup. Jacob was not only offered a distraction-free, silent office. His supervisor also made other accommodations for him, such as enforcing a schedule interruption policy with written reminders and assignments and providing a communication device.

To learn more about part-time jobs available for disabled workers, you can access further resources and information by visiting our recommended resource page.


As per ADA rules, employers are bound to make reasonable accommodations for their physically or mentally disabled employees. The time it takes to provide the accommodation varies from case to case and needs to be specified. Employers and workers should work together to ensure appropriate accommodations are in place for all personnel. 

And if you or someone you know needs reasonable accommodations at work because of a disability, it’s wise to talk to an attorney or human resources professional about your options.