Reasonable Accommodation—What Is It?


For someone who’s new in the field, it’s important to understand what reasonable accommodation is. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities in order to provide equal employment opportunities to individuals who are otherwise qualified to perform their core job functions. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind:

1.      The individual should be able to perform the essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation

2.      An employer shall provide reasonable accommodations in all situations except when such an accommodation would create an undue hardship for the company.

Like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA aims to provide equal opportunity to qualified individuals with disabilities, if they are able to perform their essential job functions, in all aspects of employment.

Types of Reasonable Accommodations

There is a long list of accommodations that an employer may have to provide related to amending the working environment or changing the way work is done. Listed below is a brief summary of approaches to reasonable accommodation:

·         Restructuring the job.

·         Flexible timing.

·         Modified/reduced work schedule.

·         Modifying existing facilities.

·         Revising training materials, policies, employment tests, etc.

·         Assigning interpreters or readers.

Making Requests for Reasonable Accommodation

Individuals with a disability can, anytime during the course of employment, request from their employer a reasonable accommodation if they’re otherwise able to perform the essential job roles. The request doesn’t necessarily need to be in writing, but it’s better if things are documented. An e-mail, letter or even a verbal discussion with the employer can be used to request an accommodation.

Example 1: An employee who uses a wheelchair tells her supervisor that her wheelchair doesn’t fit under the new desk provided after an office renovation. Arranging for a different desk is an example of a reasonable accommodation.

Example 2: An employee tells his boss that he’s having trouble getting to work at the standard time because of the medical treatment he’s undergoing. This calls for a flexible or modified work schedule as a reasonable accommodation.

Employers shall also provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants with disabilities, in order to avoid discrimination and to give an equal chance to all qualified individuals. The rules for job applicants are similar to those for employees.

Let’s have a look at some examples regarding applicants:

Example 1: An applicant who has a mobility impairment but otherwise is fit to perform the qualified job functions can request an accessible interview location.

Example 2: An applicant with a hearing impairment can request the employer to provide an interpreter to assist him during the job interview or during any related tests.

Undue Hardship

An employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodation if it would create an undue hardship for the company. While the law doesn’t clearly define what is covered under the term “undue hardship,” it is based on an individual assessment on a case to case basis. Undue hardship usually covers any accommodation that would create significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

While determining whether the accommodation would result in undue hardship for the employer, it is important to look at a few factors. Listed below are some of the important considerations an employer must look into.

·         The type and nature of the accommodation.

·         The cost of the reasonable accommodation to the employer.

·         Whether the employee will be able to perform the essential job functions, with or without the accommodation requested.

·         The impact of the accommodation on the organization’s operations.

·         The overall financial resources of the facility that would be making the accommodation, the effect on resources of the facility and the number of persons employed at the facility.

It is, however, important that the employer tries its best to provide a requested accommodation, provided that the employee is able to perform the essential job functions and the accommodation would not create an undue hardship.

The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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