Reasonable Accommodation

Frequently Asked Questions

Filing an EEO Complaint


1. General

Generally, equal employment opportunity is the idea that no one should be treated unfairly based on any protected class in the context of employment. There are a variety of state and federal laws that prohibit protected class discrimination and harassment. The State of Hawaii is an equal opportunity employer that is committed to creating and maintaining diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.

The EEO Office helps State of Hawaii Executive Branch departments, employees, and applicants under DHRD’s jurisdiction who have concerns regarding protected class harassment and discrimination.

If you are or were an employee or applicant of the Judiciary, University of Hawaii, Department of Education, county, Federal government, or a private employer, please contact your organization’s human resources office as the DHRD EEO Office will be unable to provide you with any advice and/or guidance. You may also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC).

Federal and State laws define what are protected classes. The federal and state protected classes include:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Arrest and court record (except as permitted by applicable laws)
  • National origin (National origin may refer to a person’s country of birth, nationality, or cultural or ethnic origin.
  • National origin also includes linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group).
  • Citizenship (except as permitted by applicable laws)
  • Color
  • Credit history or credit report (unless directly related to a job-related qualification)
  • Disability, mental and physical
  • Domestic or sexual violence victim status if the victim provides notice to the employer or the employer has actual knowledge of such status
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Genetic information
  • Income assignment for child support
  • Marital or civil union status
  • Military and veteran status, including uniformed service and National Guard absence
  • Pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding/expressing milk, or related medical conditions
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Reproductive health decision
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination occurs when there is an employment action (i.e. hiring, promoting, disciplining, or terminating an employee) that happens due to an employee’s protected class. For example, discrimination may occur if a manager or supervisor learns of an applicant’s pregnancy and, based on that knowledge, selects another less-qualified applicant who is not pregnant.

Discrimination can also occur when an employer adopts a policy or practice that seems neutral and nondiscriminatory on its face but has a disproportionately negative effect on members of a protected class. For example, some physical agility tests required for a job may have a disparate impact on women.

Harassment is unwanted, unwelcome, offensive conduct based on a protected class that makes it difficult for an employee to do their job. Using racial slurs or making racial jokes are examples of protected class harassment.

Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment due to a person’s sex or gender. Sexual harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, harassment can occur by making offensive comments about women in general. Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Protected class harassment does not include unwanted, unwelcome, or offensive conduct that is not based on a protected class. The EEO Office cannot assist with issues that do not involve a protected class. For instance, if you feel you were not promoted because you and your supervisor simply do not like each other for reasons unrelated to any protected class, this would not be a situation that would fall under the EEO Policy. Similarly, if an employee is rude to everyone – including you – this likely isn’t EEO related. You should contact your departmental HR office and/or your union representative to discuss your non-EEO concerns.

2. EEO Complaint Process

If you feel that you have experienced or witnessed protected class harassment or discrimination, you should report your concern to your departmental HR office or departmental civil rights office (if any). If a potential EEO issue is reported to the DHRD EEO Office, we will contact the responsible department to notify them of the complaint. You may also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC), which are external agencies who investigate formal EEO charges.

Anyone who experiences or witnesses protected class harassment or discrimination.

Contact your departmental Human Resources Officer, departmental civil rights office (if any), or the DHRD EEO Office to discuss your concerns.

When an EEO issue is received, the department will review the concern to determine whether the alleged conduct, if proven to have occurred, would violate the EEO Policy. If so, the department will investigate the allegations, including interviewing witnesses, reviewing documents, and concluding whether it is more likely than not the alleged conduct took place. If the allegations are substantiated and it is determined an EEO Policy violation occurred, the department will determine appropriate corrective action.

EEO complaints are handled as confidentially as possible, however, absolute confidentiality and anonymity cannot be guaranteed as the State has an obligation to investigate your concerns. The State has a strict anti-retaliation provision, where employees are protected from adverse actions taken due to filing an EEO complaint.

You may file an EEO complaint with the following Federal and State external enforcement agencies: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission (HCRC). For more information on filing a complaint with these agencies, please contact them directly. Please note complaints filed with the EEOC and HCRC are subject to strict time deadlines, and filing an internal complaint with DHRD EEO or your department does not impact your requirement to comply with EEOC and/or HCRC deadlines.

No. Honoring such requests could place other employees at risk of continued harassment or discrimination as well as place the State at risk for failing to take prompt action. As a supervisor, you have an obligation under the DHRD EEO Policy to timely report all EEO issues to your departmental HR and/or civil rights office. Failure to do so may result in an investigation regarding your inaction, with appropriate corrective action taken, if necessary.

Even if the alleged harasser is not a State employee, you are required to report any alleged harassment occurring in the workplace. Under the EEO Policy, the State is required to provide a harassment-free work environment, so it must take appropriate action to stop such behavior from occurring, regardless of the alleged harasser’s employment status.

You will be notified as to whether there was a violation of the EEO Policy. However, any corrective action taken against another employee is confidential and will not be disclosed to you.

First, you will be notified of the allegations made against you. Importantly, you should not confront the person filing the complaint or other people who may have knowledge of the complaint as doing so may be considered retaliation, which would violate the EEO Policy.

Next, you will be expected to attend an investigative interview during which you will be asked questions about the alleged conduct and you will have an opportunity to present your perspectives on the allegations. If your position is represented by a union, you may have a union representative accompany you to the interview; however, the representative may not answer questions for you nor otherwise disrupt the interview.

After the investigation completes, the decision maker will notify you of the outcome of the investigation, including whether it is found that you engaged in the alleged conduct and violated the EEO Policy. If you are found to have violated the EEO Policy, you may be subject to discipline, up to and including discharge from employment.

If you are identified as a potential witness to alleged conduct, your participation in the process is important. Even if you think you don’t know anything about the allegations, you should still participate in the interview and share information to the best of your knowledge.

No. Anyone who files an EEO complaint and/or participates in an EEO investigation is protected from retaliation. Retaliation for participation in an EEO process is a prohibited form of harassment even if the allegations in the original EEO process are unsubstantiated.

3. Reasonable Accommodations

A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or worksite made to enable a job applicant or employee with a disability participate in the job application process, perform the essential functions of a job, or enjoy benefits and privileges of employment enjoyed by all other employees. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees with disabilities.

Under the DHRD Reasonable Accommodation Policy, once a job applicant or employee requests a reasonable accommodation, State Executive Branch departments are required to engage in an interactive discussion process with the goal of identifying effective reasonable accommodations. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:

  • Changing an interview room to the ground floor or a building with an elevator for a job applicant who uses a wheelchair
  • Providing an employee with assistive technology or equipment, such as a screen reader
  • Modifying an employee’s schedule by permitting them to start and end work earlier, provided the program’s operations are not disrupted and the employee works their required number of hours
  • Providing training materials in an alternative format, such as printed slides with enlarged text

Any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, etc.) or major bodily function (immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, respiratory, circulatory, reproductive, etc.) will qualify as a disability under the Reasonable Accommodation Policy.

If you are finding that some aspect of the job application process or employment is difficult for you due to a medical condition, inform your supervisor and/or the department’s Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator (“RA Coordinator”), who usually works in the department’s HR or Civil Rights office. You may notify the department of your need for a reasonable accommodation verbally or in writing. If you have a specific accommodation in mind, feel free to suggest it.

Your departmental RA Coordinator will start an interactive discussion process with you by asking questions about your specific limitations and difficulties and, if needed, may request additional information from your medical provider. It is important for you to be responsive when asked for information so the department is readily able to evaluate your request and is in the best position to identify an effective reasonable accommodation.

No. If your disability isn’t obvious or known to the department, and you’ve never indicated having difficulty with an aspect of work due to the disability, the department cannot assume you need a reasonable accommodation.

Each request for reasonable accommodation is different because the nature and extent of a person’s medical condition, type of job, and work environment will vary.  In the case of a job applicant, the department just needs to provide a reasonable accommodation that will make it possible for the applicant to fully participate in the application process.  For an employee, the department needs to identify a reasonable accommodation that will enable the employee to perform all their essential job functions and/or gain access to a benefit or privilege of employment.

The department only needs to provide an effective reasonable accommodation; it does not need to be the best accommodation or the accommodation the individual with a disability most prefers, though consideration is given to the individual’s preference.  The department’s Reasonable Accommodation Coordinator will have final discretion to choose between effective accommodations, and he/she/they may select one that is least expensive or easiest to provide.

The employee and/or supervisor should immediately inform the departmental RA Coordinator. The RA Coordinator will need to have a discussion with the employee and may need additional information from the employee’s medical provider to explore other reasonable accommodation options.

No. Only job applicants and employees with covered disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Although you would not be eligible for a reasonable accommodation, you should not be treated differently from other employees because of your association with a person with a disability.  For example, if you’re requesting to flex your schedule one day a week so you can take a parent to chemotherapy treatments, and other employees in similar positions in the department are permitted to freely flex their schedules for a variety of reasons, the department should not treat you differently from those employees.

In addition, you may qualify for protected leave to care for a family member under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Hawaii Family Leave Law (HFLL).  Contact your departmental HR office for more information on requesting these types of leave.

Most likely, yes. As part of the interactive process, you may be requested to provide information that enables the department to determine whether you have a disability, why a reasonable accommodation is needed due to your disability, and how a reasonable accommodation will enable you to perform the essential functions of your job. You will need to work with your medical provider to timely provide responses to the department.

Medical information received as part of the reasonable accommodation process is kept confidential and is only disclosed on a business need to know basis. If you voluntarily disclose your medical condition to your co-workers, supervisors or other individuals, this voluntary disclosure is not covered by the ADA’s confidentiality provisions.

If you have been communicating only with your departmental RA Coordinator regarding your request for a reasonable accommodation and you have not disclosed any medical information to your supervisor, the RA Coordinator should keep your diagnosis and other medical information confidential from your supervisor.  However, the RA Coordinator will need to inform your supervisor of your work restrictions and limitations (i.e. what you can and cannot do at work because of your medical condition) and any reasonable accommodations implemented so your supervisor is aware of the manner in which you will be performing your essential job functions and he/she/they can properly supervise you.

4. Pregnancy Accommodations

Generally, pregnancy is not a qualifying disability under the RA Policy unless complications due to being pregnant arise and result in a disability.  For example, gestational diabetes (i.e. diabetes due to pregnancy) is a covered disability.

Even if an employee does not have a covered disability relating to their pregnancy, departments are required to similarly accommodate pregnant employees who have pregnancy-related difficulties with their job tasks and/or access to benefits or privileges of employment.  For example, pregnant employees may be permitted to take leave or flex their schedules to attend doctor’s appointments. If needed due to pregnancy, methods used to perform essential job functions should be appropriately modified.  In addition, although removal of essential functions is not normally a reasonable accommodation, it may be a practical short-term solution for pregnant employees.

5. Breastfeeding/Breast Milk Expression Accommodations

Yes. Employees who are breastfeeding must be provided with a private space and reasonable time during the workday to express breast milk at work. The private space must be out of view of others but cannot be a bathroom. Breastfeeding employees may be allowed to flex their schedules or take more frequent breaks to pump milk as long as they work the required number of hours in a workday. If an employee requires more time to express milk, they may be permitted to use leave for the additional time needed.

6. Domestic or Sexual Violence Accommodations

Yes.  Under State law, if the employee provides notice to the department or the department has actual knowledge of domestic or sexual violence victim status, the department should work with the employee on providing reasonable safety accommodations.  The employee knows the circumstances of his/her/their situation and is usually best able to determine the threats to safety as well as the steps that can be taken to increase safety. Thus, when an employee makes a request for a reasonable safety accommodation, the employer should rely on the employee’s judgment. The employer should engage in an interactive process with the employee to develop a safety plan that best serves their needs and does not create undue hardship on the department’s operations.

Examples of reasonable safety accommodations include:

  • Allowing leave so the employee can go to court, seek assistance from a victim services organization or medical treatment, move, or take other steps to deal with the abuse
  • Allowing a flexible or modified work schedule
  • Changing the employee’s work telephone number or extension, or e-mail address
  • Keeping the employee’s home or business address or phone number confidential
  • Providing the employee with a different work area, worksite, or shift
  • Having security help with preventing the abuser from entering the workplace
  • Providing other reasonable security measures at the workplace

A department may grant an employee a reasonable safety accommodation based on the employee’s statement that he/she/they is/are a victim of domestic or sexual violence, or it may request a written certification of such status in the form of a document from law enforcement or the courts (e.g. a police report or protective order) or a letter from an attorney or advocate for the employee or his/her/their minor child, counselor, domestic violence or sexual assault victim services provider, health care professional, or clergy member.  The department should not instruct the employee on the type of certification he/she/they should provide.

7. Religious Accommodations

Yes. The department is required to provide reasonable accommodation to applicants or employees who have sincerely held beliefs in a religion, even if the religion is not widely known.  Religious observances or practices may include attending worship services, praying, wearing religious garb or symbols, displaying religious objects, adhering to certain dietary rules, proselytizing or other forms of religious expression, or refraining from certain activities.  Whether a practice is religious depends on the employee’s motivation.

Reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs or practices include modifications or adjustments to the application process or the work environment to allow the individual to practice his/her/their religious beliefs without creating an undue hardship on the department.  Some examples of religious accommodations include:

  • Schedule changes, voluntary substitutes, and shift swaps
  • Making an exception to dress and grooming rules
  • Permitting use of the work facility for a religious observance

For example, if an employee has requested a schedule change to accommodate daily prayers, the department may need to ask for information about the religious observance, such as time and duration of the daily prayers, in order to determine whether accommodation can be granted without posing an undue hardship on the program’s operations.