Policy Statement and Reason

For the purpose of this policy, employees include faculty and staff unless otherwise indicated in sections below. All provisions of this policy apply, except that for employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement, this policy does not create any benefits not expressly provided by that collective bargaining agreement and if there are inconsistencies between this policy and the collective bargaining agreement, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement will govern. 

The College welcomes “qualified” (see: Definitions below) faculty and staff employees with disabilities to Emerson and is committed to providing an inclusive work environment where all employees have an equal employment opportunity to contribute and participate. Toward that end, the College makes reasonable accommodations (“accommodations”) to qualified individuals with disabilities or serious medical conditions in accordance with this policy, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal, state and local disability laws.

The Leave of Absence Administrator, Human Resources, is responsible for managing accommodation requests. Chairs, supervisors, and others in management should contact Human Resources regarding disability disclosures from faculty and staff employees, work-related issues resulting from the disability or other serious medical conditions and/or if faculty or staff request accommodations due to a physical or mental health disability or serious medical condition. 

Student requests for accommodations are coordinated through the Student Accessibility Services Office (SAS).


Essential job function: Fundamental job duties of the position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term "essential functions" does not include the marginal functions of the position. A job function may be considered essential for any of several reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function
  • The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed, and/or
  • The function may be highly specialized so that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function
  • The frequency with which a particular job function is performed may be relevant to the determination of whether the function is an essential job function

Disability: A physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment or being regarded as having such an impairment.

Qualified individual with a disability: A person with a disability who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.

Reasonable accommodation: A modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment or the way things usually are done that enables a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. Examples:

  • Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires
  • Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position
  • Modifications or adjustments that enable an employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities

Undue hardship: An action that requires "significant difficulty or expense" in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available and the nature of the operation. The concept of undue hardship includes any action that is unduly costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the College or the relevant department. Accordingly, whether a particular accommodation will impose an undue hardship must always be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Policy Guidelines


This policy applies to “qualified” (See: Definitions above) employees of the College and applicants for employment who have physical or mental health impairments or cognitive impairments that limit one or more major life activities, have records of such impairments or are regarded as having such impairments. In some cases, applicants or employees who are associated with individuals with disabilities are also entitled to protection from discrimination or other adverse employment action.

Reasonable Accommodations Overview

Accommodations are any changes in the workplace or the way essential job duties are customarily performed that provide an equal employment opportunity to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities under the following circumstances:

  • When applicants with disabilities need accommodations to have an equal opportunity to compete for a job for which they are otherwise qualified
  • When otherwise qualified employees with disabilities need accommodations to perform the essential functions of their jobs or to gain access to the workplace
  • When employees with disabilities need accommodations to enjoy equal access to benefits and privileges of employment (e.g., training, sponsored events, etc.)

Employees and applicants must qualify under the law to be eligible to receive accommodations.

Common Types of Reasonable Accommodations

While not an all-inclusive list of reasonable accommodations, the following are examples of common workplace accommodations the College may make as long as they do not cause undue hardship to the College: 

  • Provision or modification of equipment
  • Changes in the physical layout of a work environment to eliminate or reduce barriers
  • Elimination of certain non-essential job duties
  • Modifications of work schedules while continuing to meet business requirements
  • Leaves of absence to tend to medical or mental health issues
  • Modifications to workspaces
  • Modification and/or adaption to the way in which essential functions are performed

Undue Hardship and Accommodation Exclusions

Undue Hardship: At times applicants or employees may ask for accommodations that are determined by the College to not be necessary or not reasonable. These requested accommodations may pose an “undue hardship” (i.e., too costly, unduly extensive, substantial or disruptive) to the College or they may fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the College’s and/or employees’ work. In cases where a specific requested accommodation is not appropriate, and employees otherwise qualify for accommodations, the College will work with these individuals to identify alternative workplace accommodations that may be reasonable and effective for both the individuals and the College.

Other Exclusions: The College is not required to eliminate an essential job function as an accommodation since an “essential job function” is a fundamental function of the position or a primary reason the position exists.

Lowering expectations, whether qualitative or quantitative, is also not a reasonable accommodation, particularly where such accommodations are requested on anything but a short-term, temporary basis. However, providing accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to meet performance standards may be reasonable accommodations.

Other accommodation exclusions are personal tools and medical equipment needed to accomplish daily activities both during and outside of working time. Items such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, prosthetic devices, wheelchairs, etc. are the responsibility of the employees.

Applicant Requests for Disability Accommodations

Initiating Reasonable Accommodations to the Hiring Process

Applicants are responsible for requesting reasonable accommodations to the application, interviewing and hiring process. Search Committee Chairs and hiring supervisors must contact Human Resources as they learn of such requests, or once the need for such accommodations become apparent.

The HR representative will:

  • Discuss with applicants any requests they make for accommodations to the hiring process
  • Determine if accommodation requests are reasonable and/or comport with applicable law
  • Approve or deny requests for accommodations to the hiring process and explain these decisions to applicants
  • Facilitate the timely implementation of approved reasonable accommodations throughout the hiring process

Disability Disclosure before Hiring

The HR representative and hiring departments will not ask applicants whether they have a disability or medical condition.

If applicants have known disabilities (i.e., using a wheelchair, service dog, etc.) or if they voluntarily disclose disabilities, the College may ask whether applicants are able to perform the essential functions of the jobs for which they are applying and if they need to request accommodations in order to do so. If applicants say they will need accommodations to perform the essential functions of their desired jobs, the College may ask applicants about the specific accommodations needed. 

If applicants who disclose disabilities or have known disabilities do not request accommodations, the College may ask the applicants how they will go about accomplishing the essential functions of the jobs for which they apply.

In all cases, the College may ask any applicants if they are able to perform the essential functions of the jobs in question.

Employee Requests for Reasonable Accommodations

Initiating Requests

The College is generally not obligated to seek out and determine employees’ need for accommodations absent specific requests from employees. Therefore, the request for accommodations begins when employees disclose their need for accommodations to their chairs, supervisors and/or to an HR representative. Chairs and supervisors must contact the Leave of Absence Administrator as soon as they learn of such requests.

Employees may submit their requests, in writing, to the Leave of Absence Administrator, Human Resources, by completing a “Request for Reasonable Accommodation” Form (Please request the form from the Leave of Absence Administrator) or they may make verbal requests to the Leave of Absence Administrator directly.

The Leave of Absence Administrator will contact employees applying for accommodations and set up meetings to begin the “interactive process” (see below) to discuss the need for accommodations, and as appropriate, to identify reasonable accommodation solutions.

Medical verification and documentation are generally required as part of this process. 

The Interactive Process

The interactive process is collaborative efforts between employees and the College’s Human Resources representative (with or without Chairs or supervisors, as appropriate) to discuss the need for accommodations and, if warranted, identify effective accommodation solutions. Communication is key to an effective process.

When a request for disability accommodations is received, HR will contact employees and schedule time with them to discuss the specifics of their requests. At its discretion, HR may request documentation of disabilities and/or significant medical conditions prior to meetings with employees or after initial meetings. The advantage of meeting with employees prior to requesting documentation is so the Leave of Absence Administrator can tailor the request to healthcare providers based on discussions with employees. Meetings may include the following discussion items:

  • If employees are or have been under the care of health providers for the disabilities generating the request for accommodations
  • The impact of their disabilities on employees’ ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs, gain access to the workplace and/or to enjoy equal access to benefits and privileges of employment (e.g., productivity tools, training, company sponsored events)
  • Expected duration of the limitation as it affects their ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs
  • Other alternate accommodation(s) that would enable employees to perform the essential functions of their job
  • The type of accommodation(s) being requested
  • The extent to which the accommodation(s) requested would assist employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs

Healthcare Provider Documentation

Employees requesting accommodations must provide, upon request, written documentation from qualified health care professionals (non-family members) to support their requests. The documentation must include:

  • Clear statements that employees are under their providers’ care for the disabilities or significant medical conditions for which employees are requesting accommodations
  • Expected duration of employees’ limitations as they affect the ability of employees to perform the essential functions of their jobs
  • Descriptions of the functional work impact or limitations due to disabilities or significant medical conditions
  • Explanations of the recommended accommodations, their relevance to employees’ disabilities, and the expected duration of the recommended accommodations
  • Effects of medications on employees  
  • Other information as requested

Employees should respond promptly to requests for documentation and should keep HR informed of their progress in obtaining documentation.  Should employees be unable to provide documentation, HR reserves the right to suspend action on accommodation requests until the documentation is received.

Reasonable Accommodation:  Determination

Once documentation is received, the Leave of Absence Administrator will:

  • Conduct interactive process meeting(s) with employees,  if they have not already done so
  • Determine if employees’ requests qualify for accommodations under applicable law
  • Determine whether or not the accommodations requested are “reasonable”
  • HR may choose among reasonable accommodations or offer alternative reasonable accommodation, as long as the chosen accommodation is effective
  • Inform Chairs, supervisors, and employees of the determinations in writing
  • Facilitate the implementation of reasonable accommodations in conjunction with Chairs, supervisors or others as appropriate
  • HR can seek periodic updates of employees' medical conditions from employees as appropriate

Independent Medical Opinion

The College, in appropriate circumstances and at its expense, has the authority to obtain an independent medical opinion. However, this will not be necessary or appropriate in most routine circumstances. Employees are expected to cooperate in this review. 


HR will maintain accommodation requests, medical information, and information about the process and outcome in files that are separate from employees’ personnel records. Such files will be shared only with those who have a need to know in order to implement the accommodation process and will not be released except as required by law.

Other Information

Non-Discrimination or Retaliation

The College will not tolerate any form of discrimination or retaliation against applicants or employees on the basis of disability, requests for reasonable accommodations, or participation in complaints or investigations of disability discrimination.

Related Policies

Key Offices to Contact 

Please contact the Leave of Absence Administrator (Human Resources) for further information regarding this policy and its implementation.

Links to Procedures or Forms

Please contact the Leave of Absence Administrator (Human Resources) for assistance. 


The contents of this policy are informational only and are not conditions of employment.  This policy does not create any contractual obligations or alter the at-will employment of the College’s at-will employees. Emerson College reserves the right to modify, revoke, suspend, terminate, or change any and all policies and procedures at any time, with or without notice, as consistent with state and federal law.


Policy Effective Date:  May 2019