What is Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?
What employers do and do not have to do
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to make certain accommodations for workers with disabilities.
“Reasonable accommodation” is the term used for changes made to allow workers with disabilities to do their jobs. Employers are required to make these changes unless they constitute an undue hardship.
What Might An Employer Have To Do?
Some examples of reasonable accommodations an employer might make include:
Workplace modifications. This might include raising a desk so a wheelchair can fit under it; installing a screen magnifier for a visually impaired worker; or making dictation software available for a hearing-impaired employee.
Schedule changes. An employer might reorganize a worker’s schedule so they can make regular doctor’s appointments, or increase the amount of unpaid leave an employee can have for medical reasons.
Hiring additional staff. This could include hiring interpreters or readers to help an employee, or bringing in a specialist to help with internal training.
Changing exam requirements. Being allowed to take the exam orally rather than in writing, or allowing more time to complete the test.
Location changes. If you work for a large employer, the employer may be required to transfer you to the same job in a location where you have better access to medical care.
What Does An Employer NOT Have To Do?
Those are just a few of many accommodations an employer might make for an employee with disabilities. There are, however, some that are considered “undue hardships” for your employer.
What constitutes an undue hardship is kind of a moving target. Ostensibly, an accommodation can be said to be an undue hardship if it’s a significant expense; however, factors such as tax credits, deductions, and outside funding sources are also considered, when deciding what constitutes an outsized financial burden.
The impact of the accommodation on other workers and the company’s functioning as a whole are also taken into consideration. If the accommodation affects other workers’ ability to do their job, or reduces the company’s ability to do business, this might be considered an undue burden.
What might be considered an undue burden for one employer might not be for another—there is no definitive list of undue burdens that applies to all employers. However, here are a few examples of what might be considered undue burdens:
Assigning lots of extra work to other employees. Some employees may be asked to take on other tasks to support an employee with disabilities, either temporarily or permanently.
But if the extra work is significant enough to make the non-disabled employee unable to finish their own work, it may be considered an undue burden.
An inability to cover all workplace tasks. Reducing an employee’s hours may mean a serious reduction in the company’s ability to function. If that’s the case, an employer might be able to prove undue hardship.
Impact to other employees’ ability to do their jobs. For instance, let’s say the work of several employees depends on the presence of an employee with a disability. If the impaired employee asks to come in an hour late, it would force everyone else to start an hour late as well. This scenario may be considered an undue burden.
Providing leave with no date of return—sometimes. In many cases, employers are required to provide leave for employees who can’t specify when they’ll return to work.
But if the employer can demonstrate that form of leave will cause a major hardship—for example, by demonstrating the difficulty of hiring a qualified replacement on a temporary, indefinite basis—they may be able to prove undue burden.
In most cases, employers who demonstrate that an accommodation is an undue burden for them are required to work with the employee to find an option that will work for both.
Not sure if you’re entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADA? We strongly suggest you contact a lawyer who specializes in employment law. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 267-273-1054 for a free, confidential consultation.