Under both Maine and federal law, employers in Maine must provide a disabled employee with “reasonable accommodations” if the disabled employee needs an accommodation to do her job. One of the tricky things about getting a reasonable accommodation is that sometimes accommodations that seem reasonable to one person seem like an “undue hardship” to another; and an employer does not have to provide an accommodation that amounts to an “undue hardship.”
Because it is sometimes difficult to determine what accommodation would be reasonable for a disabled employee, courts have held that employers and employees should engage in an “interactive process” to determine how the employer can accommodate an employee’s disability without undue hardship. This interactive process is typically initiated when an employee tells his employer that he is having difficulty doing his work because of a disability and he wants to talk about accommodations that would address the problem. At that point, the employer and employee should talk through what accommodations would and would not work for them.
If you need an accommodation for a disability and you want to learn about potential accommodations that might help you, you should consult the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN runs a website where you can search for various types of disabilities and learn valuable information about different ways employers can accommodate those disabilities. For instance, if you search JAN for “hearing loss,” you’ll find, among other things, ideas for accommodating an employee who has difficulty communicating in groups because he cannot hear well. These ideas include setting rules for meetings, like allowing only one person to talk at a time, or taking minutes of the meeting that can be shared afterwards to ensure that the disabled employee did not miss something that was said.
If you inform your employer that you want an accommodation because of a disability and your employer refuses to consider any accommodations, your employer may have violated your rights. You should contact an experienced employment lawyer who is well versed in disability discrimination law and who represents employees, like the attorneys at the Maine Employee Rights Group, to discuss your options. The lawyer you consult with may have ideas on how you can approach your employer again and attempt to persuade him that he should discuss accommodations with you. If your employer needs to be educated on his obligation to accommodate employees with disabilities, a lawyer may be able to do that, too. Of course, sometimes these efforts fail and an employer steadfastly refuses to obey the law. In which case, the lawyer you have consulted with will be able to advise you on whether litigation against your employer is a viable option for you.