Reasonable Accommodations: Frequently Asked Questions

Reasonable Accommodations: Frequently Asked Questions

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is any change to the application or hiring process, the job, the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a qualified person with a disability to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat. If you’d like to learn more, explore the ADA National Network’s fact sheet on Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace.

The reasonable accommodation process: Step-by-step

The ADA National Network created a Guide to Requesting Reasonable Accommodations as part of the Employment Resource Hub. The guide provides step-by-step information on the reasonable accommodation process, and has information that may be useful for employees, employers, human resources staff, and others. More specific questions may be answered by contacting a technical assistance specialist from your regional ADA Center.

What are some examples of the accommodations applicants and employees may need?

  • Changing the format, methods, or presentation of tests and training materials.
  • Changing job tasks (as long as the tasks aren’t essential functions of the job).
  • Providing reserved parking.
  • Allowing a flexible work schedule.
  • Improving accessibility in a work area.

To explore potential accommodation options for employees with disabilities, the Job Accommodation Network has created a Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR).

What is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)?

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free source for expert and confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues. JAN provides free one-on-one practical guidance and technical assistance regarding job accommodation solutions. JAN is also useful for exploring self-employment and entrepreneurship options for people with disabilities.

Who qualifies for a reasonable accommodation?

An individual meets the ADA definition of disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Individuals who meet this definition quality for reasonable accommodations in the workplace. If an employee’s disability is not obvious, an employer can ask for medical documentation from a healthcare provider to confirm the need for an accommodation.

Individuals who are regarded as having a disability, but do not have a disability, are not qualified to receive reasonable accommodations. However, they are protected against discrimination under the ADA. For example, an employee walks with a slight limp. The employer makes an assumption that the employee has a disability and denies them a promotion involving physical labor. The employee’s limp would not have limited their ability to perform the essential functions of the promotion. Since the employee was denied the promotion because they were regarded as having a disability, the employee is protected under the ADA.

What are the essential functions of a job?

To qualify for a position, an applicant or employee must be able to perform essential job functions. Essential functions are job duties that are fundamental to the position; they are the reason the job exists. Some of the factors for determining essential functions of a job include:

  • Whether the position exists specifically to perform these functions.
  • The number of other employees who are available to perform the same job duties.
  • The expertise or skills required to perform the functions.

Written job descriptions are not required under the ADA, but they can be a helpful way to establish the essential functions of a job. Employers are not required to reallocate essential functions to another employee as a reasonable accommodation.

What types of employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations?

Private employers who have 15 or more employees, or state and local government employers of any size, are required to provide reasonable accommodations. Some state and local laws may require that employers with fewer employees provide reasonable accommodations.

State-specific resources

Check out’s state-by-state webpage for quick access to state-specific information and resources from government and local organizations’ websites that go beyond employment rights for people with disabilities. You can also contact your regional ADA Center for information about state and local laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When is an employer required to make a reasonable accommodation?

An employer is only required to accommodate a "known" disability of a qualified applicant or employee. The requirement generally will be initiated by a request from an individual with a disability, who frequently will be able to suggest an appropriate accommodation. If a person with a disability cannot suggest an appropriate accommodation, the employer and the individual should work together to identify one. Reasonable accommodations must be made on a case-by-case basis because the nature and extent of a disability and the requirements of a job will vary in each case.

If the individual does not request an accommodation, the employer is not obligated to provide one. The exception is when an individual's known disability impairs their ability to know of, or effectively communicate a need for, an accommodation. In situations like this, the employer may initiate a conversation about whether accommodations are required.

Does an employer always have to grant a reasonable accommodation request?

No. An employer is not required to make an accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. Additionally, reasonable accommodations do not require employers to reassign essential job functions. Visit the ADA National Network’s frequently asked question page on this topic to learn about the limitations on the obligations for employers making reasonable accommodations.

What is considered an “undue hardship” for a reasonable accommodation?

Undue hardship is defined as an "action requiring significant difficulty or expense" when considered in light of a number of factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer's operation. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis.

If a particular accommodation would cause an undue hardship, the employer must try to identify another accommodation that would not pose such a hardship. For example, instead of a small business adding an elevator to a building for an employee who uses a wheelchair to access staff meetings on the second floor, staff meetings could be held on the first floor.

If the cost of an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer, the individual with a disability should be given the option of paying for the accommodation, or for that portion of the cost which would constitute an undue hardship.

The ADA in action

Our success story vignettes describe real-life situations where our technical assistance specialists provided information, training, and guidance about the Americans with Disabilities Act. Learn more about the reasonable accommodation process by reading about how one of the regional ADA Centers helped an administrative employee successfully navigate their reasonable accommodation request for telework.