Americans with Disabilities – Basics for Managers and Employees

By Sheryl Gordon and Chernenko Wheatley

There are a number of federal and state laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on disability, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). Covered employers must make reasonable accommodation to the known limitations of a disability of a “qualified individual with a disability,” as defined under the law. All state employees are covered under these laws; whether or not the employee is a “qualified individual with a disability” is determined in the “interactive process” that takes place between the employee, the employee’s healthcare provider, and the college.


  • It is a violation of the ADA/WA State Law to fail to provide reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability, unless to do so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the college.
  • Failure to provide reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability can result in fines, penalties or a possible lawsuit.

What is a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities that has central importance to most people’s daily lives, i.e., such as walking, seeing, breathing;
  2. Has a record of such impairment;
  3. Is regarded as having such impairment.

What is a disability under Washington State law?

The definition of disability in Washington law RCW 49.60.040 is much broader and covers a greater number of impairments and medical disorders, as well as mental and psychological conditions.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

  1. Reasonable accommodation means modification or adjustment to a job, work environment, policy, practice, or procedure that enables a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of their job. Reasonable accommodation can also take the form of leave away from the job for a period of time, such as additional leave without pay after FMLA ends, for example.
  2. Reasonable accommodation only applies to a “qualified individual with a disability” who can do the job; in ADA lingo, the employee needs to be able to do the “essential functions” of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  3. Essential functions are the most important parts of the job (the core responsibilities), determined by how often they are done or how important they are.
  4. The college does not have to grant the specific accommodation the employee is asking for; we can make a different change that is, for example, less expensive or less disruptive to college business, but which accomplishes the same thing.
  5. After following the interactive process with the employee, the college can also decide that there isn’t a reasonable change they can make to the job. In that case, we will look for another vacant position that the employee is qualified to perform.
  6. In instances when the employee cannot be accommodated and there is no vacant position the employee is qualified to perform, the college may follow a process for disability separation.

What is the process for requesting a reasonable accommodation at Green River College?

  1. Generally, an employee needs to tell their employer that they need an accommodation because of a disability; however, reasonable accommodation requests don’t always mention the word “accommodation” and the individual may not specifically ask for a “work change.” Anytime an employee indicates he/she is having a problem performing a job function(s), and indicates the problem is related to a medical condition, the college will want to consider whether the employee is making an accommodation request. Supervisors and/or managers should call Human Resources with this kind of information immediately.
  2. Supervisors should never ask an employee if they have a disability or question an employee about personal medical information.
  3. Human Resources will evaluate the information and handle all aspects of the request and the process.
  4. Department managers and/or supervisors should never make (any) accommodations without notifying Human Resources, who will follow the proper accommodations process required by law.
  5. Department managers/supervisors should never keep medical records in departmental files.
  6. All managers and supervisors should acquaint themselves with Green River College’s Reasonable Accommodation Policy GA-10.