Part I: Why Be Accommodating?
The quick of it: the last thing an employer wants is to spend time and resources defending against discrimination litigation. Accommodations are the way to go for avoiding complicated and expensive trials—better yet, it’s incredibly possible to keep them reasonable! Accommodations are a way to invest in employees so they may in turn invest their best work back into an organization they know cares about them as individuals.
Who requires accommodations? Often the first group to mind is those with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or those with physical and/or mental conditions which impact their major life functions chronically or in phases. In Massachusetts, Chapter 151B of the Massachusetts General laws is the stricter law over the ADA and includes both public and private small businesses with six (6) employees or more.
Also requiring accommodations may be people of diverse religions with sincerely-held beliefs and, ever-pressingly, fathers seeking paternal care rights.
Accommodations are not just employer compromises demanded by the law. As defined, they are changes to the “status quo” of the company (or how things are normally done) in ways which remove workplace barriers, allowing qualified candidates equal opportunity to apply to and test for a job, perform essential functions, and receive the same benefits, privileges, trainings, and access as other employees.
Think of them as adaptations: in what ways can a company adapt to allow diverse employees equal employment opportunities at the same time employees are learning to adapt to the company? It’s a two-way, interactive street.
No accommodation will be required which causes an employer “undue hardship.” Thankfully, most don’t, or may be substituted with another accommodation so long as it is also effective. What matters most is effectiveness, not exactness of request. In many instances it only takes some group brainstorming to find a solution: every solution won’t work, but with some compromise, enough should work to keep everyone happy and hard-working. Offering accommodations is often not expensive—some are free, the average cost is approximately $240.00, most under $500.00—and may even make a company eligible for tax credits, such as the Small Business Tax Credit, or other funding. Don’t automatically assume accommodation requests can’t be met!