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Requesting Reasonable Accommodations

Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation

Westfield State University is required by law to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees or applicants with disabilities, unless to do so would cause undue hardship to the University. Therefore, in accordance with American with Disabilities Act, as amended (“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, and the Policies for Reasonable Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities contained in the University’s Equal Opportunity, Diversity and Affirmative Action Plan, the University sets forth the following process for an employee or applicant for employment to request a reasonable accommodation.

The University is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to its employees and applicants for employment to ensure that individuals with disabilities enjoy equal access to all employment opportunities. The University provides reasonable accommodations:

  • when an applicant with a disability needs an accommodation to have an equal opportunity to compete for a job;
  • when an employee with a disability needs an accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job or to gain access to the workplace; and
  • when an employee with a disability needs an accommodation to enjoy equal access to benefits and privileges of employment (e.g., information, trainings, office-sponsored events).

A reasonable accommodation is any change in the workplace or the way things are customarily done that provides an equal employment opportunity to an individual with a disability. While there are some things that are not considered reasonable accommodations (e.g., removal of an essential job function or providing personal use items, such as a hearing aid, that is needed both on and off the job), reasonable accommodations can address most things that enable an individual to apply for a job, perform a job, or have equal access to the workplace and employee benefits such as kitchens, parking lots, and University events.

While each individual’s need for accommodations may differ, common types of accommodations include:

  • modifying work schedules;
  • altering how or when job duties are performed;
  • removing and/or substituting a marginal job function;
  • making changes in workplace policies;
  • providing assistive technology, including information technology and communications equipment or specially designed furniture;
  • removing an architectural barrier, including reconfiguring work spaces;
  • providing accessible parking;
  • providing materials in alternative formats (e.g., Braille, large print); and
  • when possible, providing a reassignment to another job.

The University has designated an ADA Coordinator to oversee the reasonable accommodation interactive process, when appropriate, in a prompt and efficient manner. All requests for reasonable accommodation will be handled by the ADA Coordinator. If a request for an accommodation is made to a manager or supervisor rather than directly to the ADA Coordinator, the manager or supervisor should forward the request to the ADA Coordinator as soon as reasonably possible. When an employee makes a request for reasonable accommodation that involves performance of his or her job, the ADA Coordinator will work with the employee’s supervisor to ensure that an appropriate accommodation is provided that meets the individual’s disability-related needs and enables the individual to perform the essential functions of the position.

As part of this interactive process, the ADA Coordinator will obtain and evaluate documentation supporting an accommodation request (such as medical documentation demonstrating that the requestor is an individual with a disability), whenever the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious. When the disability or accommodation is obvious, the University may be able to address an employee’s impairment-related needs outside the process outlined here. While the ADA Coordinator will handle requests for reasonable accommodations, supervisors, managers, and Human Resources often will need to be consulted about specific requests.

Reasonable Accommodation Procedures
A. Requesting Reasonable Accommodation

Generally, an applicant or employee must inform the University that s/he needs an adjustment or change concerning some aspect of the application process, the job, or a benefit of employment for a reason related to a medical condition (physical or psychological). An applicant or employee may request a reasonable accommodation at any time, either orally or in writing. An individual should request a reasonable accommodation through the ADA Coordinator. For applicants, information about contacting the ADA Coordinator will be included in the official job posting.

An individual’s receipt or denial of an accommodation does not prevent the individual from making another request at a later time if circumstances change and it is believed that an accommodation is needed due to limitations from a disability (e.g., the disability worsens or an employee is assigned new duties that require an additional or different reasonable accommodation). Additionally, the ADA Coordinator may not refuse to process a request for reasonable accommodation, and a reasonable accommodation may not be denied, based on a belief that the accommodation should have been requested earlier (e.g., during the application process).

A request does not have to include any special words, such as “reasonable accommodation,” “disability,” or “ADA.” A request is any communication in which an individual asks or states that she needs the University to provide or to change something because of a medical condition. If the nature of the initial communication is unclear, the ADA Coordinator may ask the individual whether a request is being made for a reasonable accommodation.

A family member or health professional may request an accommodation on behalf of an employee or applicant. For example, a doctor’s note outlining medical restrictions for an applicant/employee constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation.

An employee needing a reasonable accommodation on a recurring basis, such as the assistance of a sign language interpreter, need only request the accommodation once. However, the employee requesting accommodation must give appropriate advance notice each subsequent time the accommodation is needed. If the accommodation is needed on a regular basis (e.g., a weekly staff meeting), the ADA Coordinator should ensure that an employee’s supervisor makes the appropriate arrangements without requiring a request in advance of each occasion.

B. Processing the Request

While the ADA Coordinator has responsibility for processing requests for reasonable accommodation, the Coordinator may work closely with an employee’s supervisor or office director in responding to the request, particularly those involving performance of the job. The ADA Coordinator will need to consult with an employee’s supervisor, manager and/or Human Resources to gather relevant information necessary to respond to a request and to assess whether a particular accommodation will be effective. No reasonable accommodation involving performance of the job will be provided without first informing an employee’s supervisor or, as appropriate, an office supervisor or manager.

C. The Interactive Process

1. Generally

After a request for accommodation has been made, the next step is for the parties to begin an interactive process to determine what, if any, accommodation should be provided. This means that the individual requesting the accommodation and the ADA Coordinator will communicate with each other about the request, the precise nature of the problem that is generating the request, how a disability is prompting a need for an accommodation, and alternative accommodations that may be effective in meeting an individual’s needs.

In most instances, the ADA Coordinator may need to get information to determine if an individual’s impairment is a “disability” or to determine what would be an effective accommodation. Such information may not be necessary if an effective accommodation is obvious, if the disability is obvious (e.g., the requestor is blind or has paraplegia) or if the disability is already known (e.g., the requestor previously asked for an accommodation and information submitted at that time showed a disability existed and that there would be no change in the individual’s medical condition).

Communication is a priority throughout the entire process, but particularly (a) where the specific limitation, problem, or barrier is unclear; (b) where an effective accommodation is not obvious; or (c) where the parties are considering different forms of reasonable accommodation. Both the individual making the request and the ADA Coordinator should work together to identify effective accommodations.

When an individual’s doctor or family member requests accommodation on behalf of an applicant or employee, the ADA Coordinator should, if possible, confirm with the applicant or employee that he wants a reasonable accommodation before proceeding. Where this is not possible, for example, because the employee has been hospitalized in an acute condition, the ADA Coordinator will process the request if it seems appropriate (e.g., by granting immediate leave) and will consult directly with the individual needing the accommodation as soon as practicable.

The ADA Coordinator may need to consult with other University personnel (e.g., an employee’s supervisor, Information Technology staff) or outside sources to obtain information necessary to make a determination about the request.

2. Reassignment

There are specific considerations in the interactive process when an employee needs, or may need, a reassignment.

  • Generally, reassignment will only be considered if no accommodations are available to enable the individual to perform the essential functions of his or her current job, or if the only effective accommodation would cause undue hardship.
  • In considering whether there are positions available for reassignment, and in accordance with the provisions of any relevant collective bargaining agreement, the ADA Coordinator will work with both Human Resources and the employee requesting the reassignment to identify: (1) vacant positions within the University for which the employee may be qualified, with or without reasonable accommodation; and (2) positions which Human Resources has reason to believe will become vacant.

D. Submission of Medical Documentation

If a requestor’s disability and/or need for accommodation are not obvious or already known, the ADA Coordinator is entitled to ask for and receive medical documentation showing that the requestor has a covered disability that requires accommodation. A disability is obvious or already known when it is clearly visible or the individual previously provided medical information showing that the condition met the requirements for an accommodation. The ADA Coordinator may also ask for updated medical documentation if the documentation currently on file or submitted with a new request for accommodation is dated.

It is the responsibility of the applicant/employee to provide appropriate medical documentation upon the request from the ADA Coordinator. If an individual has already submitted medical documentation in connection with a previous request for accommodation, the individual should immediately inform the ADA Coordinator. The ADA Coordinator will then determine whether additional or more current medical information is needed to process the current request. If the requestor fails or refuses to provide medical documentation upon the request of the ADA Coordinator, the University will have no further obligation to continue the interactive process and provide the requested accommodation(s).

If the initial information provided by the health professional or the requestor is insufficient to enable the ADA Coordinator to determine whether the individual has a disability within the meaning of the ADA and University policy, and/or that an accommodation is needed, the ADA Coordinator will explain what additional information is needed. If necessary, the individual should then ask his/her health care provider or other appropriate professional to provide the missing information. The ADA Coordinator may also give the individual a list of questions to give to the health care provider or other appropriate professional to answer. The individual requesting accommodation will likely be asked to sign a limited release permitting the health care provider or other professional to discuss issues related to the disability and/or accommodations directly with ADA Coordinator. The ADA Coordinator may have the medical information reviewed by a doctor of the agency’s choosing, at the agency’s expense.

A supervisor or office director who believes that an employee may no longer need a reasonable accommodation should contact the ADA Coordinator. The ADA Coordinator will decide if there is a reason to contact the employee to discuss whether s/he has a continuing need for reasonable accommodation.

E. Confidentiality Requirements

Medical information obtained in connection with the reasonable accommodation process must be kept confidential. This means that all medical information that the University obtains in connection with a request for reasonable accommodation must be kept in files separate from the individual’s personnel file. The act of requesting an accommodation is similarly confidential, as is the approval or denial of the request and information about the individual’s functional limitations. Any University employee who obtains or receives such information is strictly bound by these confidentiality requirements.

Notwithstanding these confidentiality requirements, the ADA Coordinator may share certain information with an employee’s supervisor, manager, Human Resources or other University official(s) as necessary to make appropriate determinations in response to a reasonable accommodation request. Under these circumstances, the ADA Coordinator will inform the recipients about these confidentiality requirements. The information disclosed will be no more than is necessary to process the request. In certain situations, the ADA Coordinator will not necessarily need to reveal the name of the requestor and/or the office in which the requestor works, or even the name of the disability.

In addition to disclosures of information needed to process a request for accommodation, other disclosures of medical information are permitted as follows:

  • supervisors and managers are entitled to know whatever information is necessary to implement restrictions on the work or duties of the employee or to provide a reasonable accommodation;
  • safety personnel may be informed, when appropriate, if the disability might require emergency treatment or assistance in evacuation;
  • government officials may be given information necessary to investigate the University’s agency’s compliance with the law; and
  • when otherwise required by law.