If your employer denies a reasonable accommodation request, this can amount to discrimination. You can file a complaint with your state’s labor board or with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You can also file a discrimination lawsuit against your employer, though you may need a right-to-sue letter.
You should also request an explanation from your employer.
What steps should I take if my employer denied a reasonable accommodation request?
If you make a request for a reasonable workplace accommodation for your disability, you have options if your employer denies it. The denial may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 4 important steps that you can take are to:
- ask for an explanation as to why your request was denied,
- seek the legal advice of an employment lawyer,
- file a claim with the EEOC or with your state’s labor board, and
- file a lawsuit against your employer for disability discrimination.
By taking these steps, you can invoke your rights under state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Each step is an escalation of the last one. In many cases, the situation is resolved without the need to file a lawsuit or even a claim of discrimination.
1. Ask for an explanation for the denial
The first step is generally to ask for a reason for the denial of your request. Not all employers will voluntarily explain their stance. Federal anti-discrimination laws do not require them to give a reason for the denial, though workers in the federal executive branch are entitled to one.
If your employer does not justify or explain the denial, you should request an explanation. By making this request in writing, it creates a paper trail for your case.
If your employer responds with an explanation, it can be used as evidence that your request was improperly denied.
If your employer does not respond, it can also be used as evidence.
Merely asking for an explanation can also open up a dialogue about the request. In some cases, this negotiation process can produce a resolution that works for you. The ADA requires employers to engage in an interactive process with you to find a potential alternative accommodation. This process is often conducted through your employer’s human resources department (HR).
2. Talk to an employment lawyer
If you have not already done so, the next step is generally to talk to an employment attorney. Their experience in the field and knowledge of workplace discrimination law can help them see whether you have a case or not. Not all requests for a reasonable accommodation have to be approved. If the accommodation would create an undue hardship on your employer, they can deny the request.
By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer from a reputable law firm, you can make an informed decision about how to move forward.
By hiring a lawyer, you can also show your employer that you know your rights and intend to invoke them. This can persuade them to review your accommodation request and might even change their mind about denying it.
3. File a claim with the EEOC or your state’s labor board
The next step is often to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s labor board or agency.
The EEOC is the federal agency that enforces the ADA. Your state’s board, such as the California Civil Rights Department (CRD), will enforce your state’s anti-discrimination laws. These state laws often provide more extensive protections than the federal ADA.
The process for filing this complaint will depend on the state you live in. However, the general steps are the same:
- you file a pre-complaint inquiry with the agency,
- an intake interview is conducted to determine whether the agency has jurisdiction,
- if the inquiry is accepted, a complaint containing the allegations will be prepared and served on your employer,
- your employer will respond to the complaint,
- the agency will conduct an investigation,
- while the investigation is ongoing, the agency will facilitate mediation, and
- if no resolution is made, the investigation will conclude with an issuance of its findings.
At the end of the investigation, several things can happen:
- if the investigation found that there was a legal violation, the agency can either:
- pursue the charge of discrimination on your behalf, or
- decline to intervene and issue you a right-to-sue letter;
- if the investigation found no violation, it will close the case and issue you a right-to-sue letter.
Depending on the details mentioned in the investigation report, your next step may be to go to court.
4. File a lawsuit against your employer
Once you have a right-to-sue letter, you will have exhausted your administrative remedies and can go to court. You can file a workplace discrimination lawsuit against your employer for not providing a reasonable accommodation.
If successful, this lawsuit can generally recover:
- back pay and other wages lost,
- attorneys’ fees,
- court costs, and
- equitable remedies, including the accommodation that you had requested.
Is my employer covered by the ADA?
The federal ADA does not cover all employers. However, if it does not, your state’s laws against disability discrimination in the workplace might.
The workplace protections of the ADA only apply to employers who have 15 or more employees.
However, many state anti-discrimination laws apply to employers with fewer workers than federal law. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), for example, applies to all employers with 5 or more employees.
Where the ADA’s requirements would not apply, you would have to file your complaint with your state’s labor agency.
When can my employer deny an accommodation under the ADA?
Employers covered by the ADA can deny accommodation requests if they would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer.
An “undue hardship” is an accommodation that would require significant difficulty or expense on the employer’s behalf. Factors in determining whether the accommodation would constitution an undue hardship include:
- the nature of the accommodation and the cost of providing it,
- the financial resources of the employer or the facility that would need alteration,
- how many people are employed at the facility that would need the alteration,
- the impact that the accommodation would have on the operation of the facility,
- the number, type, and location of the employer’s facilities, and
- the business practices of the employer.
If your employer can show that your requested accommodation would cause it undue hardship, they can deny your request without violating federal employment law.
What are some examples of a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is an alteration to your work environment that would allow you to perform the essential functions of the job.
A few examples of reasonable accommodations can be:
- improving the accessibility of the working facilities for physically disabled employees,
- part-time or modified work schedules to facilitate health care appointments for your medical condition,
- reassignments to a vacant position,
- giving the job duties that you cannot perform to other coworkers,
- letting you use a support animal or guide dog,
- modifying work equipment so you can perform your job duties,
- adjusting examinations, policies, or training materials, and
- providing an interpreter, such as a sign language interpreter.
What is a disability?
The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against qualified individuals with a disability. That disability can be either:
- mental, or
The disability can be any of the following:
- an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity,
- a record of such an impairment, or
- the perception that you have such an impairment.
If an employee requests an accommodation for one of these disabilities, but the request gets denied, it can amount to employment discrimination.
 42 USC 12111(5).
 California Government Code 12926(d) GOV.
 42 USC 12112(b)(5)(A).
 42 USC 12111(10).
 29 CFR 1630.2(o).
 42 USC 12102(1)(A).
 42 USC 12102(1).