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What Constitutes “Reasonable” Accommodations?

Very often, there are misunderstandings when a disabled employee seeks reasonable accommodations in order to perform their job. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to ensure disabled clients have an equal ability to be hired and perform work, the definition of ‘reasonable’ is very often up for debate. If you are a disabled employee, it is imperative that you know your rights.  

Provisions of the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, though it did not take effect until 1992. Title I, the most commonly cited group of provisions, seeks to curtail discrimination against disabled people, primarily in hiring, but also in other areas such as accessibility and benefits. Not every entity must comply with the ADA; only businesses or labor organizations which are covered. However, this does include the majority of businesses that have more than 15 employees, so it is unlikely that your employer is not covered.

In order to prevent qualified disabled applicants from being denied work they would otherwise be fit to perform, the ADA mandates that a disabled applicant or employee is entitled to reasonable accommodations which will assist in the performance of their duties. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines reasonable as any kind of non-material modification or adjustment to a job that allows a disabled person to experience an equal employment opportunity – in other words, to allow the disabled person to perform the same type of work as a non-disabled person. Still, even within this definition, there is considerable leeway.

“Undue Hardship”

There are several different examples of accommodations that have been held as reasonable in the past, and as a result, employers are generally expected to meet such metrics. These include:

  • Job restructuring – in other words, allowing a worker to work flex time or later shifts, or allowing telecommuting on days where a disability requires medical treatment;
  • Making existing equipment or facilities accessible, such as desks or changing rooms;
  • Ensuring the availability of interpreters or assistants for people who require them (for example, a sighted person to read instructions to a blind employee);
  • Allowing modifications to training materials, such as converting them to Braille or allowing extra time for training exams; and
  • Many other accommodations which will improve an employee’s performance on the job.

These precedents notwithstanding, there are situations where an employer cannot be made to comply with the ADA. Either the business is not covered (there are fewer than 15 employees), or it can be proven that the requested accommodation would be an undue hardship, in terms of time or funds expended. The concept of “undue hardship” is the critical issue, and it is determined on a largely case-by-case basis – a larger company can absorb a higher cost or endure more difficulty in service of making accommodations, so something that would most definitely be an undue hardship for a small business might be no trouble for a larger one. If your accommodation request is turned down for this reason, it may be worth it to request an ADA opinion, or even to bring suit.

An Employment Lawyer Can Assist

Employment law and the ADA are complex, with exceptions built into rules. It can be a great help to engage an experienced employment discrimination lawyer. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his firm of Hitchcock & Potts have been standing up for employees for years, and will do their best for you. Contact the Charleston office today at 843-577-5000 to set up an appointment.

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