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MS and Employment: Asking for Reasonable Accommodations

October 13, 2017

For those of us in the workforce, our MS can sometimes make a workday challenging. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows for an employee to request reasonable accommodations from their employer. Included in the act are three broad accommodation categories. One focuses on the hiring process, and another ensures that employees with disabilities can enjoy the same benefits of employment as others.

This column will focus on the third type of accommodation:

“Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position.”

Many people with MS are fully employed without the need for reasonable accommodations. However, the changing and evolving nature of this disease may mean that work we were able to do yesterday will require some modifications tomorrow.

This somewhat begs the question of “disclosure” at work: If you ask for an accommodation, your employer will know that something is going on with your health. (They do not have to know that you have MS.) I won’t explore that topic here, but I hope to delve into a discussion of disclosure in the future.

I have made three different reasonable accommodation requests over the past 13 years. My employer has been supportive of each request, which included a flexible work schedule, relocation of my workspace, and an air-conditioning unit for a workspace that was consistently too hot.

Some general categories may include:

  • Making existing facilities accessible;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Part-time or modified work schedules;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment;
  • Changing tests, training materials, or policies;
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters;
  • Reassignment to a vacant position.

The Enforcement Guidance section of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission‘s website explains that “reasonable” is defined as something that is both “plausible” and “feasible.” In other words, does it make sense and can it be done? This also means that the cost must be feasible and cannot create an “undue hardship” on the employer.

A reasonable accommodation allows an employee to perform essential functions of the job. For instance, I can request an ergonomically correct workstation due to muscle spasms because my essential job functions involve working on the computer and talking on the phone. However, if I want to travel long-distance to a conference I cannot ask for a reasonable accommodation to pay more for me to stay in a quieter location because attending a conference is not an essential function of my job.

Under this law, an employer is not required to:

  • Eliminate an essential job function;
  • Lower production standards, whether quantitative or qualitative;
  • Provide something that can also be used for personal needs, i.e. cane, scooter, or eyeglasses.
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