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Your first reaction to the title above is, "What?" I don't even know what the subject is let alone have questions about it!
Actually, you are not far off. The term "accommodation" in the world of personnel or human resource management refers to adjustments to the way work is done so that a person with disabilities can perform the job. The term "placement" follows accommodation - or, actually, inability to accommodate in the "target" positions.

These two personnel issues are extremely complex and are usually handled by human resource professionals (like your Liaison Analyst in GSD Personnel Services). But, there are several points that you need to know in order to do the right thing at the right time. Let's get started with the questions . . . .

1. When is accommodation or placement an issue I need to be concerned with?
There are four times. First, when hiring and the person you want to hire has a disability.

Second, when a GSD employee is injured on the job and doctors place permanent work restrictions on the employee.

Third, when a GSD employee becomes disabled off duty and the City Medical Director places permanent work restrictions on the employee.

Fourth, when a disabled employee has been selected for promotion or transfer into a different position.

2. Why is this an area for the personnel people?
Two very complex laws (and many court decisions) govern how we go about finding ways to accommodate the disabled. These laws also require an effort to place disabled employees in alternative positions if they cannot be accommodated in the current class of positions.

These laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled are more complex than laws prohibiting most other forms of employment discrimination. There are so many ways to be considered disabled, and each individual with a disability is different than anyone else even with the same disability. There are so many variables we need to consider when exploring accommodations, and each case has to be considered apart from other cases.

3. Okay, so we need personnel people to know the laws and to understand the accommodation process. What do we need the supervisors for?
Personnel people know the law and medical/disability terminology. They know the guidelines on what should be considered when trying to accommodate a disability. BUT, they do not know how the job is performed as well as you. You will need to help personnel people explore accommodations by knowing all the different ways and tools that can be used to perform the essential duties of the job.

4. What is a "disability" and a "disabled person"?
For work purposes, the State of California says that a disability is any "…physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity."

California says that a disabled person is one who:
¨ has a physical or mental restriction on working,
¨ used to have a disability (even if they no longer have the impairment), or
¨ we think is impaired (even if they are not).

This is very complex which is why it is so easy to violate the law. Our advice to supervisors is not to worry about "definitions" under the law.

5. If I don't worry about definitions, I may violate the law without knowing it. How can I avoid violating the law?
Any time you are asked to give work to someone claiming a disability (hire, transfer, promote, return from sick leave, return from IOD), contact your Liaison Analyst in Personnel Services.
Also, keep an open mind. Working together (you, Personnel staff, and the applicant or employee), we will want to identify the essential job duties and ways we can accommodate the persons impairment or restriction so that she can perform the essential duties. (More on "essential duties" in next question.)
In only rare cases are we going to want to verify that the person is properly defined as disabled under California law. The best personnel action is to find a way to accommodate the person so we can get to work.

6. Can you define "essential job duties" or is that another definition I don't need to worry about?
Very funny! The law does not require accommodation in such a way as to change the basic structure of the job. Let's answer this a different way. Essential duties are those that:
¨ must be performed
¨ the position exists to perform
¨ a large part of the time is spent performing
¨ there will be serious consequences if not performed (even infrequently)
¨ if removed fundamentally alter or change the job
¨ the person is hired to perform
¨ previous incumbents in the position performed

When we are all looking at ways to accommodate work restrictions, we are looking at ways that will allow the person to perform the essential duties. And, yes, YOU are the expert on the essential duties of positions you supervise.

7. What are ways in which we may accommodate disabled persons?
Here is a list to get us talking and exploring, but this list is not complete. No one list could ever be complete because each situation has its own unique set of circumstances.
¨ Work-site modification to allow accessibility
¨ Modified work schedule
¨ Reassignment to vacant position
¨ Acquire assistive devices
¨ Services, equipment provided by employee
¨ Job restructuring
¨ Flexible leave policy
¨ Modify existing equipment or devices
¨ Assign personal assistance
¨ Reader or interpreter

8. I know that I am the expert on the job duties and you are the expert on ways to accommodate. Who else needs to be part of this process - finding reasonable accommodation?
The applicant or employee must be part of this process. He understands better the disability, and can help find ways to accommodate. Personnel Services will contact the person to solicit ideas for accommodation.
In some cases we will seek advice from the City Department of Disabilities or the Personnel Department

9. Who makes the final decision on accommodation, the applicant/employee or me?
Neither. The GSD Personnel Director makes the final decision on accommodation on behalf of the General Manager. Personnel staff will do the research by talking to you and the applicant/employee, and give a recommendation to the Personnel Director.

10. How long does this "accommodation/placement" process take?
Once we know the disability (work restriction or impairment), we should be able to complete an accommodation assessment within 5 to 10 working days.
What takes longer is the research to place an employee in a different position. For example, an employee has permanent work restrictions due to an on-the-job injury. If we cannot accommodate him in his pre-injury position, he is entitled to our best effort to find another job in GSD that he can perform (the essential duties) with or without accommodation. This requires time to: ¨ find vacant positions to which he is qualified to transfer,
¨ verify that the work restrictions will not prevent him from performing the essential duties of that position (accommodation assessment), and
¨ confirm that the employee is interested in the position
In some cases, after exhausting placement options in GSD, we ask the Personnel Department to try to place the employee in another department.

11. What if the applicant/employee disagrees that we cannot accommodate or place him?
If we cannot resolve that disagreement in the GSD Personnel Office, she may file a discrimination complaint with the Personnel Department, the State Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The burden of proof is on us to prove that there is no "reasonable" way to accommodate the applicant/employee's impairment, disability or work restriction. In legal terms, we will need to prove that to accommodate would create an "undue hardship" on the department.

12. Can I ask about medical matters, job injuries or other "disability-related" questions in a job interview?
Absolutely not. If you are aware of a possible impairment (person is blind, cannot hear, in a wheelchair) you can only describe and ask if he can perform the essential duties - and, if yes, how or what assistance is needed.

13. I already have three employees working for me who have disabilities that we have accommodated. Any more and I may not be able to get the work out. Will you consider these current accommodations when another employee or applicant needs accommodation?
This is something the Personnel staff need to know, and weigh in determining if the most recent disability can be accommodated. Remember, the focus will be on essential duties and ways we can accommodate without creating an "undue hardship" (see answer to question No. 11, above).

14. If I accommodate an employee on a temporary basis (such as for our Temporary Modified Work - Return to Work - program), will I be bound to making the accommodation on a permanent basis? Isn't it safer to not make temporary accommodations?
No, no, no. While there are no guarantees, if we make sure to document accommodations (modified duties) made on a temporary basis, we should not be required to continue them on a permanent basis.
Temporary accommodations of temporary work restrictions is a very important concept that would be lost if the City or outside compliance agencies (State and Federal) allowed the temporary accommodations to become permanent against the supervisor's original good intention.

15. Can you give me two things to remember regarding accommodation and placement?
First, do not assume anything when faced with the question of accommodation (call Personnel).
Second, approach accommodation with a question, "how can we accommodate" instead of an answer on "why we cannot accommodate." Look, search, ask for ideas on how to, rather than searching for reasons why not.

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