EEOC guidance gives examples of reasonable accommodations

Four informal guidances released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on May 15, 2013, highlight specific types of reasonable accommodations for people with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and intellectual disabilities.

“Nearly 34 million Americans have been diagnosed with cancer, diabetes or epilepsy, and more than 2 million have an intellectual disability,” said EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline Berrien. “Many of them are looking for jobs or are already in the workplace. While there is a considerable amount of general information available about the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act], the EEOC often is asked questions about how the ADA applies to these conditions.”



More than 12 million Americans had cancer in 2008, the most recent year for which incidence data is available. The EEOC provided examples of accommodations that organizations could make for  people with cancer, such as:

• Leave for doctors’ appointments and/or to seek or recuperate from treatment.

• Periodic breaks or a private area to rest or to take medication.

• Modified work schedule or shift change.

• Permission to work at home.

• Modification of office temperature.

• Permission to use work telephone to call doctors if the employer’s usual practice is to prohibit personal calls.

• Reallocation or redistribution of marginal tasks to another employee.

• Reassignment to a vacant position if the employee can no longer perform her job.



Approximately 18.8 million Americans get diabetes. And nearly 2 million more are diagnosed each year. In its questions and answers on people with diabetes, the EEOC listed the following examples of reasonable accommodations that employers could make:

• A private area to test blood-sugar levels or to administer insulin injections.

• A place to rest until blood-sugar levels return to normal.

• Breaks to eat or drink, take medication or test blood-sugar levels.

• Leave for treatment, recuperation or training on managing diabetes.

• Modified work schedule or shift change.

• Use of a stool for someone who has difficulty standing a long time because of diabetes-related nerve damage (i.e., neuropathy).

• Reallocation of marginal tasks to another employee.

• Reassignment to a vacant position if the diabetic no longer can perform his duties.



Almost 3 million people in the United States live with epilepsy, and each year brings about another 200,000 new cases of seizure disorders. One in 10 adults has seizures during her lifetime. There isn’t a cure yet, but drugs prevent seizures in many epileptics who take them regularly. Seizures can be controlled for substantial periods in 50% of epileptics, the EEOC noted. Suggested accommodations include:

• Breaks to take medication.

• Leave to seek or recuperate from treatment or adjust to medication.

• A private area to rest after a seizure.

• A rubber mat or carpet to cushion a fall.

• Adjustments to a work schedule.

• A consistent start time or schedule change.

• A checklist to help remember tasks.

• Permission to bring a service animal to work.

• Someone to drive to meetings and other work-related events.

• Permission to work at home.

• Reassignment to a vacant position if the employee no longer can perform his job.


Intellectual disabilities

Individuals with intellectual disabilities (formerly referred to as the mentally retarded) have an intelligence quotient below 70 to 75, the agency noted.

Suggested accommodations for the mentally disabled include:

• Reallocation of marginal tasks to another employee.

• Tweaked training on how to do the job, such as instructions at a slow pace, additional time to finish training, descriptions of job tasks in sequential steps, and the use of charts, pictures or colors.

• Extra training when necessary.

• A tape recorder to record directions as a reminder of steps in a task.

• Detailed schedules for completing tasks.

• A job coach, who can help the employee learn how to do the job; provide intensive monitoring, training, assessment and support; and help develop a healthy working relationship between management and the employee by encouraging appropriate social interaction.

• Modified work schedule or a shift change.

• Help in understanding job evaluations or disciplinary proceedings.

• Acquired or modified equipment.

• Reconfigured placement of workstation from a large open area to a quieter part of the office.

• Reassignment to a vacant position if the worker no longer can perform his or her duties.

The EEOC also noted that since Congress enacted the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which took effect in 2009, individuals with a wide range of impairments -- including cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and intellectual disabilities -- have been presumed to have an ADA disability. So, courts now more frequently reach the question of whether persons with disabilities have been reasonably accommodated.

Allen Smith, J.D., is manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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