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Compliance Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA

Jun 22, 2021

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Paul Kramer

Paul Kramer

Director of Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with 15 or more employees, and state and local governments, to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified employees (and applicants) with disabilities unless doing so would cause undue hardship to the employer.

An accommodation is any change to the work environment or to the way things are normally done that enables a person with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. The reasonable accommodation process is a valuable tool that helps countless hard-working employees with disabilities succeed in their jobs.

Although employers need not provide an accommodation that will cause them undue hardship, what constitutes an undue hardship? Undue hardship is defined as any action requiring significant difficulty or expense for a particular employer. Generalized conclusions will not support a claim of undue hardship. Rather, a determination of undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of an organization’s circumstances that considers several factors, including:

The Nature and Cost of the Accommodation

Employers should evaluate the type of accommodation needed and the actual cost of providing it. For example, if an employee with a disability requests a leave of absence as an accommodation the employer will likely incur actual costs in covering the time off with another workerConsequently, the longer a disabled employee is on leave the more likely the accommodation will be an undue hardship because the replacement costs will be greater.

The Facility’s Overall Financial Resources

This factor looks at a facility’s ability to absorb the cost of an accommodation. When the facility making the accommodation is part of a larger organization, the overall resources of the larger entity should be considered in determining undue hardship. Generally, larger employers with greater resources are expected to provide accommodations requiring greater effort or expense than are smaller employers with fewer resources. 

The Type of Operation of the Employer

This factor focuses on the compatibility of an accommodation with an employer’s operations. For instance, if an employee in the construction industry requests wheelchair accessibility at a work site that is constantly changing, this may be an unreasonable accommodation to provide. The employer, however, must still consider alternative reasonable accommodations that will assist the employee with a disability in performing their job.

The Effect of the Accommodation on the Facility’s Operation

In determining undue hardship, employers should analyze how the accommodation will affect the job performance of other employees as well as the overall functioning of the business. And it is not undue hardship merely because other workers complain that the employee requesting the accommodation is receiving preferential treatment. The accommodation must be unduly disruptive to coworkers or to the business’s operations for an undue hardship to exist.

Examine the Facts of Each Case

Because many factors come into play when determining if an accommodation would cause undue hardship, what constitutes an undue hardship for one employer may not be a hardship for another employer. Organizations must evaluate every situation on a case-by-case basis.

Evaluating whether a requested accommodation would inflict undue hardship on an employer is a complicated task requiring careful consideration. And remember, undue hardship is a difficult threshold to meet. Organizations considering denying an accommodation on hardship grounds should consult legal counsel or an in-house expert because failing to provide a reasonable accommodation is discrimination that can lead to costly lawsuits and damages..

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