Comprehensive Guide to Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Employees in Florida

disabled man working from home in a wheelchair

Workers with disabilities are protected from employment discrimination based on their physical or mental disabilities. They have rights under the Florida Civil Rights Act and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to enjoy equal employment opportunities. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s or job applicant’s disabilities, such as by providing assistance that allows them to perform essential functions of a job.

If you are disabled and are not being treated fairly at your Florida workplace or as a job applicant, Cruz Law Firm, P.A., will fight to protect your rights. When appropriate, we will also work to recover compensation for the way you have been treated.

The legal team at Cruz Law Firm has nearly two decades of combined legal experience and has taken over 100 employment discrimination cases to trial in state and federal court. We understand how difficult it can be to come forward with a complaint when facing employment discrimination. That’s why we are committed to providing every client with dedicated, effective legal counsel and personalized service, no matter how complex the case.

Contact Cruz Law today for a free consultation about your case of employment discrimination due to a disability that should have been accommodated. We are in Tallahassee and also take cases from Jacksonville and across the Florida Panhandle. Call us at (850) 701-8838 now.

Understanding Your Rights and Disability Accommodations

The federal laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission make it illegal to treat people differently in the workplace because of an individual’s disability or a perceived disability. Disability discrimination involves acts against an individual on the basis of disability that adversely affect the individual’s hiring, firing, job duty assignments, training, wages, raises, promotions, or provision of health insurance or other benefits.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities or bodily functions
  • Having a record of such an impairment
  • Being regarded by others as having such an impairment.

Major life activities covered by the ADA and the 2008 ADA Amendment Act include, but are not limited to:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Hearing
  • Eating
  • Sleeping
  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Speaking
  • Breathing
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating

Major bodily functions covered by the ADA Amendment Act include:

  • Functions of the immune system
  • Normal cell growth
  • Digestive functions
  • Bowel functions
  • Bladder functions
  • Neurological functions
  • Brain functions
  • Respiratory functions
  • Circulatory functions
  • Endocrine functions
  • Reproductive functions.

What Is Reasonable Accommodation?

A worker who has a disability has the right to acknowledge their disability and request a reasonable accommodation(s) that allows them to perform the functions of a job they hold or are seeking. A worker who can adequately perform the essential functions of a job with reasonable accommodation is legally considered to be qualified for the job.

Essential functions are job tasks that are fundamental to the position. They are the reason the job exists, unlike marginal job functions. The employer determines the essential functions of a job and is not required to change a job’s essential function to accommodate a disabled worker or job candidate.

Examples and Indicators of Disability Discrimination

An employer may not ask a job applicant to answer disability-related questions during the hiring process, such as whether they have a disability. An employer may ask job applicants whether they can and how they would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

When offering a job, an employer may condition the job offer on the applicant answering disability-related questions and/or passing a medical exam. But the employer can only do this if all new employees in the same type of job are asked the same questions or must pass a medical exam.

After an employee starts work, an employer generally can only ask disability-related questions and/or require a medical exam if the employer needs medical information to support an employee’s request to provide reasonable accommodations or if the employer has objective evidence that an employee is unable to successfully perform job duties because of a medical condition.

It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because of a current or past disability, such as by making offensive remarks about an individual’s disability. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

Other acts of workplace discrimination against a person with a disability might include:

  • Not hiring a qualified individual for a vacant position based on their disability.
  • Reassigning an employee with a disability to a light duty position or a lesser role or firing them on the basis of their disability.
  • Not hiring or promoting a qualified individual based on a perceived risk of a relapse into a disability they have resolved or overcome.
  • Offering lower compensation to workers with disabilities than non-disabled employees with the same job descriptions or job duties.
  • Failing to accommodate an employee’s disability and refusing to negotiate a reasonable accommodation.
  • Refusing to hire an applicant due to a family member’s disability.
  • Retaliating against a disabled employee who asserts their legal rights under federal laws.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Workers?

accessible ramp for disabled people outside a workplaceA reasonable accommodation is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that enables applicants, employees, or persons with disabilities to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Accommodation for ADA compliance should be made on a case-by-case basis, considering each employee’s individual limitations and accommodation needs.

Employers who have 15 or more employees are usually required to provide reasonable accommodation for workers with disabilities. Employers with fewer employees may be exempt from the requirements.

There are numerous ways an employer may provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee. A few reasonable accommodation examples include:

  • Altering work schedules to allow frequent breaks or to accommodate medical appointments.
  • Allowing remote work or modified work schedules.
  • Making existing facilities accessible (wider doorways and aisles, ramps) and/or ergonomic office furniture.
  • Providing an accessible parking space.
  • Providing work-related training materials in alternative formats, such as large print, braille, audio, etc.
  • Providing accessible and assistive technologies, such as screen reader software to assist the vision-impaired or video capabilities to assist the hearing-impaired.
  • Providing sign language interpreters or closed captioning at meetings and events.
  • Allowing a service animal in a business setting.
  • Providing attachments for office cubicles to enhance privacy and reduce external noise to assist with concentration (e.g., shades, shields, doors).
  • Appointing a support person to help keep a worker focused, assist with minor day-to-day tasks, or help them operate in work-related social environments that they may not feel comfortable in alone.

An employer is not required to accommodate a worker’s disability if doing so would cause the business undue hardship. An employer does not have to remove essential functions from an individual’s job, allow an employee to do less work for the same pay, or accept lower-quality work as an accommodation.

Requesting Accommodation for Your Disability at Your Workplace

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free resource the U.S. Department of Labor provides to dispense workplace accommodations guidance under the ADA and ADAAA. Some of the information below is from JAN’s Employees’ Practical Guide To Requesting And Negotiating Reasonable Accommodation Under The Americans With Disabilities Act.

You have the right to request that an employer provide reasonable accommodations at any time during the job hiring process or while employed. You should request an accommodation any time you recognize that there is a workplace barrier that, due to a disability, is preventing you from competing for a job, performing essential job functions, or gaining equal access to the benefit of employment, like an employee lunchroom or employee parking.

Your request should go to your supervisor and/or the company’s human resource department. Start verbally with whichever one you feel more comfortable with. Follow up in writing to both. Keep a copy of your written request for reasonable accommodation.

Legally, requests for reasonable accommodation do not have to be in writing, nor do they have to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation,” JAN says. However, at the Cruz Law Firm, we strongly suggest documenting your request in writing and including the statement: “I am requesting a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.”

Because employers are only required to provide accommodations for employees experiencing workplace problems because of a disability, you must let your employer know that you have a disability that is creating a barrier in the workplace.

You should tell your employer:

  • About the trouble you are having.
  • How the problem is related to a disability you have.
  • What your accommodation ideas are.
  • That the accommodation will help you “meet work goals,” “maintain productivity,” or “be successful at my job.”
  • If your employer cannot provide the requested accommodation, you would like to meet and discuss other reasonable accommodations.
  • You would appreciate a prompt reply. Employers have no specific amount of time to respond to an accommodation request, but they should respond as quickly as possible.

Employers have the right to request additional medical information when an employee requests an accommodation, and if you do not provide it, the employer can deny your accommodation request. If the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious, an employer may require that the employee provide medical documentation to establish that the employee has an ADA disability and needs the requested accommodation.

Your employer may approve your request, deny your request, or offer an alternative on a case-by-case basis. If the request is denied, ask your employer for a written explanation of why it was denied. If your employer offers an alternative, try it and take some time to see whether it is an effective accommodation. If not, restate your request and explain what the previous solution failed to provide.

Providing a Doctor’s Documentation of Your Disability

disabled woman using special elevator at workIf you are asked for medical documentation of your disability, you need only to provide information about the disability for which you have requested accommodation. Employers do not have the right to your full medical records or portions unrelated to your request.

Your doctor or care provider will likely know what’s appropriate, but the information you provide your employer should describe:

  • The nature, severity, and duration of the disability
  • The activity or activities that the disability limits
  • The extent to which the disability limits your ability to perform a specific activity
  • Why the requested accommodation is needed and/or how it will allow you to overcome the existing barrier to job performance or equal access.

We Can Help You Rise Above Workplace Disability Discrimination

If you are an employee with a disability and you get any pushback from a request for reasonable accommodation at your place of work in Florida, a workplace disability discrimination lawyer from Cruz Law in Tallahassee can help you. An employment attorney can review your situation and discuss whether you have a valid claim under the disabilities act. Being represented by a workplace disability discrimination attorney is often enough to make a reluctant employer take the proper steps to provide an individual with a disability an equal opportunity.

When appropriate or necessary, we can seek legal remedies for any harm you have suffered because your employer engaged in a discriminatory act, denied a reasonable accommodation, or took no action at all when a discriminatory act happened in the workplace. We may be able to pursue a claim and demand from your employer:

  • Back pay, including regular wages or salary, overtime, tips, bonuses, and commissions, if you missed work time because of the failure to accommodate your disability
  • Lost future earnings if you were wrongfully terminated on the basis of your disability
  • Reinstatement to employment or a prior assignment if you were transferred or terminated due to your disability
  • A court order requiring your employer to provide specific reasonable accommodation for you
  • Compensation for your emotional pain and suffering caused by the discrimination
  • Payment of your court costs and attorney’s fees
  • Punitive damages if your employer intentionally or willfully engaged in disability discrimination or failure to accommodate your disability.

If your employer is not providing reasonable assistance you need to do your job despite a physical or mental disability, you should contact an experienced Florida employment discrimination lawyer at Cruz Law as soon as possible.

Talk to an Experienced Tallahassee Disability Discrimination Attorney

tiffany r cruzNo one wants to face discrimination in the workplace based on a disability or lack of reasonable accommodation. If this has happened to you, Cruz Law can help. We’ll demand compliance with the ADA and other applicable laws and accountability from your employer for the harm they have done you.

Our law firm demands justice for disabled workers facing workplace discrimination in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and across the Florida Panhandle. Consultations are confidential. Contact us now to speak with a compassionate, experienced workplace disability discrimination attorney.

At Cruz Law Firm, P.A., we represent employees in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and throughout the Florida Panhandle. We’ll fight to protect your employment rights, from workplace discrimination and sexual harassment to wrongful termination and whistleblower claims. Let us put our experience to work for you.