Millions of Americans live with a disability every day and figure out how to make their lives work around the medical condition. From paraplegia to ADD, there are many different types of disability and most of them do not stop a person from effectively pursuing a career in something they know and love. But the disability can get in the way of thriving in a standardized work environment.
This is why the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) set up a framework by which employers can and must provide reasonable accommodation for disabled employees. Provided that you have all the required skills and abilities for the job but need equipment or a work environment to be minorly adjusted to your needs, an employer is obligated to do whatever they can to comply with your request for accommodation.
Negotiation for Accommodation
Your employer is required by law to provide accommodation, but not necessarily anything you ask for. They are required to enter a “flexible interactive process” to find an accommodating solution. Essentially, this means that you and your employer are supposed to work together to find the best accommodation.
Your employer is looking for accommodation that is affordable and simple to implement and you are looking for whatever will make your job more comfortable and possible to do. Most of the time, the employer and disabled employee can come to a workable compromise. But this is an effort for both sides of the table. Just as your employer must be willing to talk with you about possible accommodations, you need to be ready to work with your employer to find a solution that works for both parties.
Being flexible at the Negotiation Table
For those lucky enough to have an employer willing to openly discuss solutions, as the ADA intended, both sides need to be flexible about possible solutions. Don’t be surprised if your employer is hesitant to accept your first suggestions, and be open-minded that there might really be a better solution available.
Because this is your disability and you know it better than anyone, take the lead and frame out your needs directly for your employer. You need this kind of lumbar support or this color of light to be comfortable. Then be frank and ask what kind of limitations or priorities your employer will be bargaining for, like a tight department budget or concerns about distracting others. Approach your disability like a math problem you’re both trying to solve where you need X and Y, they need A and B, and you can find something that covers all points.
Be willing to do the research and even try low-cost solutions for a few days or weeks to see if they help. Your flexibility will also help your employer be flexible because they see that you’re not just making demands. You are trying to solve a problem.
Helping Your Employer with Their Counter-Offers
If your employer freezes up or denies your first suggestion without a counter-offer, this might not be obstinance or refusal. This might just be that they have no idea how to counter-offer or what to counter-offer with. If, for example, you ask for a new concrete ramp and they say no for budget reasons, you can take charge of their half of the negotiations as well. Try suggesting a steel portable ramp instead. Or that you be given a parking spot on the side of the building that already has a ramp.
It can help to come in armed with a list of possible solutions, as you can’t always predict what your employer will think is best. Even if they had no idea what to do when the conversation began. Be the expert on your condition by offering alternatives that would also serve your needs.
If Your Employer Won’t Play Ball
These techniques can really help a disabled professional reach an accommodation agreement with their employer. Somewhere between flexibility and doing a lot of the research and negotiation yourself, your employer is far more likely to also be flexible and to pick a solution they’d like to try. Unfortunately, not all employers are so cooperative.
If your employer flat out refuses to give accommodations or only offers alternatives that won’t work for you, then this can quickly become an employee rights issue. They cannot refuse to negotiate and they are obligated to provide something as long as your demands would not financially or logistically disadvantage the company to a significant degree.
When an employer will not negotiate or accommodate or if they outright punish you for asking, then it’s time to seek out the help of an employment lawyer. Here at Aiman-Smith & Marcy, we are dedicated to helping employees stand up against their employer’s abusive tactics including a refusal to accommodate your disability. Let us help you defend your employee rights and attain a workplace where you are comfortable and able to work.