Not only is it unlawful to discriminate against a disabled applicant or employee, an employer with five or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for the known physical or mental disability of an applicant or employee, unless the employer can demonstrate that accommodation would pose an undue hardship. Examples of reasonable accommodations may include: acquiring or modifying furniture, equipment, or devices; transferring an employee to a more accessible worksite; allowing the employee to work from home; job restructuring (for example, reallocation or redistribution of non-essential job functions in a job with multiple responsibilities); reducing work hours to part-time or otherwise modifying work schedules; reassignment to a vacant position; buying new or altering existing types of tools, equipment, devices, or furnishings; adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or workplace policies; granting a finite leave of absence; and allowing the use of “assistive animals” (which may include emotional support dogs or other animals) in the workplace.
Employers have a separate duty to engage in an interactive process to determine whether a reasonable accommodation exists for an applicant’s or employee’s disability. This duty is triggered if an employee requests an accommodation, or if the employer observes the need for accommodation, is advised that the need exists, or becomes aware of the possible need for accommodation. If the employer does not grant the accommodation requested, it must confer with the employee about alternatives.
Victims of disability discrimination and failure to engage in the interactive process can recover back pay (past lost earnings), front pay (future lost earnings), damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees and costs. Non-monetary remedies are also available, such as hiring or reinstatement, promotion, policy changes, and training.