What causes the accommodation process to break down? Job Accommodation Network (JAN) studies on the costs and benefits of job accommodations for people with disabilities show that there are three major hurdles to effective job accommodation solutions:

Hurdle #1. Lack of information on what medical documentation an employer can request. Employees might not understand that their employers can request them to provide certain medical documentation in response to an accommodation request, and if they fail to do so, they might not be entitled to the needed accommodation.

To determine whether a particular employee has a disability, you may request medical documentation that shows whether the person has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. You may require that this documentation come from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional, including -- but not limited to -- doctors (including psychiatrists), psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, vocational rehabilitation specialists, and licensed mental health professionals.

For more information on medical exams and inquiries, including forms for employers, individuals, and medical professionals, visit

Hurdle #2. Lack of clarification on determining the essential functions of a position. Employees might request the removal of an essential job function without realizing that this isn't required as a reasonable accommodation.

You may require an individual with a disability to meet the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position, including the performance of its essential functions with or without an accommodation. To determine whether a job function is essential, begin by determining if the employee in the position is actually required to perform the function. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, other criteria include: (1) a limited number of other employees available to perform the function or among whom the function can be distributed; and (2) the need for special expertise or ability to perform the function. To determine whether a job function is essential, consider these factors:

  • The employer's judgment
  • A written job description prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for a job
  • The amount of time spent performing the function
  • The consequences of not requiring a person in this job to perform a function
  • The work experience of people who have performed the job in the past and are currently performing similar jobs.

Although employers are not required to eliminate an essential function, lower production standards, or provide personal use items, they can do so if they wish. For information on identifying the essential functions of a job, including other relevant factors and examples, visit

Hurdle #3. Lack of agreement on effective reasonable accommodations, including the role of temporary accommodations, leave time, and reassignment. Employees might reject an offer of reassignment, not realizing that reassignment to a vacant position is a form of reasonable accommodation when there is no accommodation available in the current position.

In most situations, you should first consult with the employee who requested the accommodation to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation. The employee will often be the best resource for information about accommodation needs. By talking with the employee who requested the accommodation and obtaining medical information if needed, you should be able to identify the problem, which is the first step in determining effective accommodation solutions.

Once you have identified the employee's limitations and abilities, the next step is to determine how they impact the employee's ability to perform the job. To make this determination, consider what specific job tasks, work environments, equipment, or policies are creating barriers to successful job performance. It might sometimes be necessary to go beyond a traditional job description and consider other factors, such as the equipment used to perform a task, where the work is performed, and why certain policies are being followed.

Once you have identified the employee's limitations and abilities and determined how they impact job performance, you're ready consider accommodation options, such as temporary accommodations, leave time, and reassignment.

For more information on determining accommodations, see: JAN's Five Practical Tips For Providing And Maintaining Effective Job Accommodations at

You can often avoid these hurdles by discussing the situation in advance and expedite the process by understanding your rights and responsibilities. To discuss your case in detail, contact JAN directly for one-on-one consultation.

Thanks to JAN Principal Consultant, Beth Loy, Ph.D.

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