Reasonable vs. Undue Hardship
Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
Title I of the ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship.
This section examines what “reasonable accommodation” means and who is entitled to receive it. The Guidance addresses what constitutes a request for reasonable accommodation the final section of this Guidance discusses undue hardship.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship. “In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.
The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is a fundamental statutory requirement because of the nature of discrimination faced by individuals with disabilities. Although many individuals with disabilities can apply for and perform jobs without any reasonable accommodations, there are workplace barriers that keep others from performing jobs which they could do with some form of accommodation. These barriers may be physical obstacles (such as inaccessible facilities or equipment), or they may be procedures or rules (such as rules concerning when work is performed, when breaks are taken, or how essential or marginal functions are performed). Reasonable accommodation removes workplace barriers for individuals with disabilities.
Reasonable accommodation is available to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations must be provided to qualified employees regardless of whether they work part- time or full-time, or are considered “probationary.” Generally, the individual with a disability must inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.
There are several modifications or adjustments that are not considered forms of reasonable accommodation. An employer does not have to eliminate an essential function, i.e., a fundamental duty of the position. This is because a person with a disability who is unable to perform the essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, is not a “qualified” individual with a disability within the meaning of the ADA. Nor is an employer required to lower production standards — whether qualitative or quantitative — that are applied uniformly to employees with and without disabilities. However, an employer may have to provide reasonable accommodation to enable an employee with a disability to meet the production standard.
An employer does not have to provide as reasonable accommodations personal use items needed in accomplishing daily activities both on and off the job. Thus, an employer is not required to provide an employee with a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or similar devices if they are also needed off the job. Furthermore, an employer is not required to provide personal use amenities, such as a hot pot or refrigerator, if those items are not provided to employees without disabilities. However, items that might otherwise be considered personal may be required as reasonable accommodations where they are specifically designed or required to meet job-related rather than personal needs.
- What must an employer do after receiving a request for reasonable accommodation?
The employer and the individual with a disability should engage in an informal process to clarify what the individual needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation. The employer may ask the individual relevant questions that will enable it to make an informed decision about the request. This includes asking what type of reasonable accommodation is needed. Please refer the individual to the PVAMU Office of Disability Services to complete University procedures for registering persons with a disability.
- Is an employer required to provide the reasonable accommodation that the individual wants?
The employer may choose among reasonable accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective. Thus, as part of the interactive process, the employer may offer alternative suggestions for reasonable accommodations and discuss their effectiveness in removing the workplace barrier that is impeding the individual with a disability.
If there are two possible reasonable accommodations, and one costs more or is more burdensome than the other, the employer may choose the less expensive or burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective.
The only statutory limitation on an employer’s obligation to provide “reasonable accommodation” is that no such change or modification is required if it would cause “undue hardship” to the employer. “Undue hardship” means significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. Undue hardship refers not only to financial difficulty, but to reasonable accommodations that are unduly extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. An employer must assess on a case-by-case basis whether a particular reasonable accommodation would cause undue hardship. The ADA’s “undue hardship” standard is different from that applied by courts under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for religious accommodation.
Source: EEOC – Office of Legal Counsel. Informal Discussion Letter, 2009.