Employment Rights for People with Disabilities: Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation for Your Disability

If an employer’s hiring/employment policy causes your job application to be rejected (or causes other adverse action against you) based on a conviction that was caused by your disability, you have the right to request a “reasonable accommodation” so that you can be considered for the job just like other applicants.

To request an accommodation, the law only requires you to tell the employer that you need an accommodation for a reason related to a medical condition. You do NOT have to put your request in writing, and you do NOT have to use any special legal language—you can explain your request in normal words. You can request an accommodation at any time during the job application process or after you begin working.[2138]

HOWEVER, because it is generally believed that employers are less likely to be sympathetic and less willing to change policies regarding criminal convictions (even where the conviction was caused by your disability), it is recommended that you give the employer a WRITTEN LETTER requesting the reasonable accommodation. (Be sure to make a photocopy for yourself before sending the letter). This will make it more difficult for the employer to ignore your request, and you will have documentation in case the employer denies it.

It’s recommended that your letter clearly include ALL of the following:

    Explain that you have a disability, and what that disability is.
    Include any documentation of your disability and treatment.
    Clearly state the accommodation you are requesting (for example, that you are asking the employer to make an exception to the hiring policy that would exclude you due to a criminal conviction that was caused by your disability, or you are asking for time off to attend treatment).
    Explain the reason that you are requesting the accommodation:
    Here, you could say that an exception from criminal history policy is NECESSARY to give you an equal opportunity to participate in the job.
    Explain the connection (meaning the relationship or “nexus”) between the requested accommodation and your disability.
    Explain how your criminal conduct was the result of the mental illness and/or past substance abuse (for example, state that you were convicted of drug possession because you were addicted to drugs, but you have successfully completed rehab).
    It is helpful and more persuasive if you have a doctor or service provider submit a letter explaining why your disability requires a reasonable accommodation.

For a sample letter requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability, see Appendix U, PG. 652.

  1. 2138

    EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, No. 915.002, Oct. 17, 2002.