Employment Acommodations Program

Frequently Asked Questions: Managers

How do I recognize a request for an accommodation?

A request can be no more than an oral or written request for an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to an unspecified medical or mental health condition. An employee does not need to mention the word ADA, disability, or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation." 

Here are some examples that would trigger a referral to the IDE Employment Accommodations Coordinator:

  • An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of some medical treatments I'm undergoing."  
  • A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs their employer that their wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in their office.  
  • An employee tells his supervisor, “I am having difficulty getting to work on time because of a change in medication”. 

Here is an example that would not qualify as a request for a reasonable accommodation:

  • An employee tells his supervisor that he would like a new chair because his present one is uncomfortable. 

Although this is a request for a change at work, this statement is insufficient to put the employer on notice that the employee is requesting reasonable accommodation as the need for the new chair was not linked to a medical condition. A referral to the Department of Environmental Health and Safety for an ergonomic assessment would be appropriate in this matter.

How do I respond to a request for an accommodation?

When you receive a request for an accommodation or a change at work for a reason related to a medical or mental health condition, refer the employee to Paul Harwell, Associate Director of ADA/504 Compliance in the Office of Institutional Diversity & Equity. This referral triggers the interactive process whereby essential functions of the employee’s job are identified and reasonable accommodations needed to permit the employee to perform those essential functions are determined. 

If an employee with a disability states they do not need an accommodation, should I still try to provide one?

If an individual with a disability states that they do not need a reasonable accommodation, you do not need to provide one. Accommodations vary depending upon the needs of the individual applicant or employee. Not all people with disabilities (or even people with the same disability) will need the same accommodation. Reasonable accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis as part of an interactive process between the employee, the Employment Accommodations Coordinator, and others, as necessary.

Let the employee know that they may request an accommodation at any time by contacting the Employment Accommodations Coordinator.

A member of my department has access to a private office as a disability-related accommodation.  I am concerned that other members of my team will question this decision.  I understand I cannot tell my staff that this person has an accommodation, however, I do not want to be perceived as favoring an employee or making unfair management decisions.

The accommodation process is confidential and decisions regarding approved accommodations should not be shared. If an employee questions why a colleague has their own office, can work from home, has an alternative schedule, any other inquires that are related to an accommodation, here are some suggested responses:

  • I make decisions based on the needs of the department and the individual needs of employees. Such decisions are made with respect to individual privacy which I provide to you and all employees.
  • We treat employees individually and make considerations based upon sound business reasons which includes providing privacy for everyone.

I recently gave an employee a poor performance review at which time they stated their performance was due to a medical condition.  How should I proceed?

Refer the employee to the Associate Director of 504/ADA Compliance to begin the accommodation process and proceed with the initial counseling of the employee regarding the performance issues that are of concern.

Under the ADA, employees must be able to perform the essential functions of their position with or without an accommodation. The ADA does not obligate employers to disregard or change performance requirements as reasonable accommodation. Employers should apply performance standards uniformly and consistently to all employees, including employees with disabilities. 

Reasonable accommodation does not require that the employer:

  • Tolerate or excuse the poor performance
  • Withhold or pause disciplinary action (including termination) warranted by the poor performance
  • Raise a performance rating
  • Give an evaluation that does not reflect the employee’s actual performance

An employee approached me about making a slight modification to an existing accommodation.  Should I work directly with the employee to make the change?

If an employee requests a change or modification to an existing accommodation, refer the employee back to the Associate Director of ADA/504 Compliance. An employee and manager should not negotiate an accommodation. This is the role of the Associate Director. 

I need additional guidance regarding the accommodation process and how to navigate a specific situation.

To learn more about the accommodation process or discuss a specific situation or concern, contact:

Paul Harwell
Associate Director, ADA/504 Compliance
Institutional Diversity and Equity
Dartmouth College


Some FAQ content used here was adapted from the US Employment Equal Opportunity Commission, the Job Accommodation Network, Yale University Accommodation Program for Faculty and Staff, and UW-Madison Employee Disability Resources