Alan Cohen Law

Disability & Reasonable Accommodations

Practice Areas
Disability & Reasonable Accommodations

San Francisco Disability & Reasonable Accommodations Attorney

Employers must generally reasonably accommodate employees or job applicants with a known disability if it is necessary to allow them to perform the essential functions of the job, unless it poses an undue hardship.

Many people – maybe most of us – are going to face a disability of one kind or another during our working lives. California law grants disabled employees a right to accommodation. But many employers are reluctant to make the necessary changes regardless of what the law states. Accommodation disputes routinely involve difficult factual, legal, and strategic questions. And employees going through this process deserve to be treated with sensitivity and understanding. At the Law Offices of Alan F. Cohen, we bring unparalleled experience, knowledge, and compassion to helping employees who have been wrongly denied a reasonable accommodation.

What is a disability under California law?

Broadly speaking, a disability is any physical or mental condition that limits a major life activity. Also protected are people who have a record or history of such a condition or who are regarded or treated by the employer as having such a condition. Just about any physical or mental condition that makes it difficult to achieve a major life activity – such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, sleeping, walking, driving, communicating, interacting with others, and working – is considered a disability. California law is designed to be protective. “Disability” and “major life activity” are defined very broadly.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

Any job modification allowing someone to perform the essential functions of the job can be a reasonable accommodation. Employers are required to consider any and all possible accommodations. Just about any modification that is reasonable under the circumstances can qualify. Here are some classic examples, but there are many other possibilities:

  • modifying desks, chairs, or equipment;
  • job restructuring;
  • providing a part-time or modified work schedule;
  • altering when and/or how an essential function is performed;
  • modifying an employer policy;
  • working from home;
  • an extended leave of absence;

A great, free resource for information about potential job accommodations is the Job Accommodation Network, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Employers are not required to turn their operations upside down to accommodate disabled employees. But there are many creative solutions that would allow people to work with fairly minimal disruption to the employer’s operations. Unfortunately, we often find that employers refuse to consider how the job could be done differently. They view any suggestion that their policies and procedures should bend to accommodate an employee’s disability as impossible. Worse, the employee can face retaliation or discrimination for requesting a reasonable accommodation.

What is the Interactive Process?

Employers have to engage in good faith in an “interactive process” with employees or job applicants in a timely manner when they become aware a reasonable accommodation might be needed. No particular kind of request is necessary, and the employee is not required to use any “magic words” like “reasonable accommodation” or “disability” or mention the ADA or the FEHA. Employers may ask for reasonable medical documentation if the need for accommodation is not obvious, but they are not allowed to insist on a diagnosis or other medical information.

The key to the interactive process obligation is open communication. Both employer and employee are required to participate in good faith and interact in a dialogue that contributes information and possible solutions. If either party fails to continue the dialogue, or delays, or does not act in good faith, they will be considered responsible for the breakdown in the process.

What should I do if my employer won’t accommodate me?

There are a lot of scenarios where employers will not reasonably accommodate disabled employees. Sometimes they won’t even have that discussion and there is no interactive process. Other times, they will not consider possible accommodations or refuse to provide accommodations that are reasonable under the circumstances. Employers may demand more medical information than the law allows. They may even retaliate against the employee or discriminate against them for their disability. Any of these scenarios can be difficult for employees to work through. As always, we encourage employees to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible so as to learn their rights and take steps necessary to protect themselves and their jobs. If you believe your employer has violated California law in any of these areas, contact us to discuss your situation in detail.

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Alan F. Cohen

San Francisco Employment Lawyer

Alan F. Cohen


Alan F. Cohen

For 25 years, Alan Cohen has provided fierce advocacy and sophisticated employment representation to Bay Area employees. Mr.Cohen has recovered millions of dollars in damages, negotiated hundreds of severance and employment agreements, and protected the jobs and rights of all kinds of workers. From fast-food workers to CEOs, he has dedicated his career to protecting employees at every level. Mr.Cohen’s deep knowledge of employment law and creative, committed advocacy give his clients an edge in any dispute. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. He regularly represents and counsels employees throughout California against the biggest law firms and corporations in the world.

“I am so grateful that I reached out to Alan when I did. I was
pushed out of my last job and about to accept a measly severance
when a friend of mine referred me to Alan. I wasn’t sure if I had a
case, but after reviewing the materials I sent to him he assured me
that we could get more than what was being offered…”
Candace L.

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