What is a Reasonable Accommodation if You are Disabled?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment based on a worker’s disability. This means an employer can’t fire, refuse to promote, or refuse to hire someone because they are disabled—so long as they can really perform the job.

But the last part is key: an employee must be able to perform the job. For example, someone whose arms are paralyzed can’t demand to be hired lifting heavy boxes, so this person would not have a disability discrimination claim.

Sometimes, disabled workers can perform a job so long as the employer makes some change to accommodate them. These might be changes to the physical job site to make it more accessible or changes to the schedule. Under federal law, an employer must make an accommodation so long as it is “reasonable.” But what does that mean?

A Reasonable Accommodation Cannot Pose an Undue Hardship

Federal law largely defines “reasonable” by what it is not—an undue hardship. This doesn’t sound very helpful, but it makes perfect sense. After all, a company can’t be expected to bankrupt itself redesigning a job so that a disabled applicant can work there. It also shouldn’t have to totally change the job description to accommodate a disabled worker, either. Federal law recognizes that businesses operate in a competitive environment and cannot be expected to lose its competitive edge simply to accommodate disabled workers.

At the same time, federal law won’t let employers slide out from under their responsibilities by refusing to make any accommodation, however small. That would defeat the purpose of the law and wouldn’t protect anyone. So the drafters of the ADA made a compromise—an employer must honor a request for accommodation so long as it is not an undue hardship.

So What Accommodations Pose an Undue Hardship?

Basically, an employer does not need to make an accommodation if it is too costly or disruptive. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which handles employment discrimination cases, has identified several factors that are helpful in analyzing whether an accommodation is reasonable:

  • The cost of accommodation
  • The employer’s size and financial resources
  • The nature of the business
  • Whether the company has already incurred the costs of the accommodation

Most accommodations are not expensive. For example, if an employee is in a wheelchair, they might need their desk raised or lowered. This can be done quite inexpensively. Other employees who have eye problems might only need a new computer screen, which could cost $50 or so.

It also matters how the employer would pay for the accommodation. If they could receive a tax write off or government grant for the accommodation, then it is less burdensome. The disabled employee might also agree to pay for the accommodation, which makes it hard for an employer to refuse.

Speak to a New Jersey Discrimination Attorney

The Sattiraju & Tharney, LLP has been representing disabled employees for years. We have extensive experience with ADA and other discrimination lawsuits, as well as with EEOC complaint procedures.

Contact us today. You can schedule a consultation with us by calling 609-799-1266.