Below is an overview of the process for obtaining a reasonable accommodation for faculty who have a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many health conditions qualify as disabilities for which an employer must provide reasonable accommodations. However, we also want to let you know that you may be eligible for accommodations beyond those required by the ADA. [Thank you to Skyline Anthropology Professor Lori Slicton, for putting together this overview.]
AFT has negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding for Fall 2021 providing that: “The District will support all faculty, instructional and non-instructional, who do not yet feel comfortable to return to in-person work by informing them of their rights and ask if they want to engage in an interactive process to explore eligibility/availability of reasonable accommodation such as but not limited to working remotely, alternate worksites, flexible scheduling, and leaves of absence.” There are many reasons a faculty member might request an accommodation according to this provision: for example, they may care for someone or have someone in their household who is immunocompromised or at increased risk of complications from Covid-19. If you think you may qualify for an accommodation according to our MOU, we recommend that you get in touch with AFT by emailing AFT 1493 Executive Secretary Marianne Kaletzky at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can advise you as you initiate the interactive process.
Amid an evolving pandemic, the SMCCD continues to move toward in person work. In this context, numerous faculty have expressed their health concerns if required to return to our colleges in Fall 2021/ Spring 2022. While some employees prefer to return to campus, it may not be the healthiest option for all. This rapid transition by the SMCCD has amplified the need for faculty to understand their options under the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Central to the ADA is the ability to request Reasonable Accommodations in our workplace. Our workplace, in this case might mean working remotely and or negotiating a hybrid (combination of working on campus and remotely) with our Dean.
The AFT, in a proactive effort, seeks to advocate for faculty who need to request Reasonable Accommodations under the ADA. Reasonable accommodations are a legal right under the ADA, a Federal law. Disability here, refers to someone with emotional and or physical issues that interfere with their major life activities. In this case, our employment within the SMCCD is the major life activity.
The SMCCD, as an employer with more than 15 employees, is required by law, to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees unless there is “undue hardship” (such as, too extensive, too disruptive, excessive cost). These are generally not an issue for the SMCCD.
When Can I Request Reasonable Accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations can be requested at any time. However, it’s best to begin the process as soon as the need has been identified. Some faculty may feel vulnerable and or fear retaliation. If that is the case, please do not hesitate to contact the AFT. We are here for YOU!
What is my responsibility in Requesting Reasonable Accommodations?
Employees need to initiate an Interactive Process with their supervisor (such as Dean, Human Resources) indicating their needs. If the employer is not made aware of a need for accommodations, they are not obliged to provide them. Some disabilities are not visible and employers may request medical documentation verifying that the employee qualifies to receive accommodations. It is common for employers to request medical verification for accommodations whether or not the disability is obvious. Medical documentation should be focused on the specific accommodation needs.
The Accommodations may require adjustments over time per the employee’s changing needs.
This can be helpful to both the employee and the employer.
Accommodations can be temporary, on a trial basis or long term. Accommodations may change over time and require adjustments between the employee, employer and the experts who understand the employee’s ADA needs.
Can I request to work remotely under the ADA?
Working remotely may be the healthiest option for many employees due to Covid-19, inferior work facilities or other health concerns. If there is a bright spot in this last year, it might be that faculty learned to work remotely—and REALLY WELL!!! Bravo! Working remotely can be addressed with your health care provider(s) to determine what is best for you.
How Can I Request Reasonable Accommodations?
Per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which is the Federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA, it is not necessary to put a request into writing. However, documentation can prove valuable if conflicts arise, and is encouraged. The ADA does not require a specific form. Faculty can request that an AFT representative assist them in this process.
Below is a sample form letter from JAN, the Job Accommodation Network, for requesting accommodations under the ADA. The SMCCD may have an in-house form, but JAN’s is a good model for reference.
Date of Letter
Dear (e.g., Supervisor, Manager, Human Resources, Personnel):
Content to consider in body of letter:
• Identify yourself as a person with a disability
• State that you are requesting accommodations under the ADA (or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 if you are a federal employee)
• Identify your specific problematic job tasks
• Identify your accommodation ideas
• Request your employer’s accommodation ideas
• Refer to attached medical documentation if appropriate*
• Ask that your employer respond to your request in a reasonable amount of time
Sincerely, Your signature
Your printed name
Cc: to appropriate individuals