Most people are familiar, at least in the colloquial sense, with the concept of reasonable accommodations, especially in the context of disability. However, there is a paucity of understanding when it comes to what accommodations actually qualify as reasonable. Much depends on certain situation-specific factors, but regardless, there is a baseline of sorts for what must be done.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits all forms of discrimination against disabled people, including in hiring, promotion and payment. Covered employers (and not every employer is covered by the ADA) must offer qualified applicants or employees reasonable accommodations to allow them the same employment opportunities as non-disabled applicants or employees. The ADA defines an accommodation as any change in the standard work environment or procedure to allow a disabled person to participate in employment to the same degree. However, ‘reasonable’ accommodations are specifically not defined, because reasonableness is a subjective concept, tailored to each individual situation.
Generally, a reasonable accommodation is one that can be made without undue hardship (another subjective concept). Examples in the past have included restructuring or changing shift schedules, installing specialized equipment like TTY machines or Braille readers, and allowing more time for training if necessary. It is important to note, however, that while the cost of accommodation is on the employer, it is the employee who must affirmatively ask for it.
The Concept Of Undue Hardship
An accommodation that an employee asks for will usually be granted. However, if it presents an undue hardship to the employer, the law permits that the employer refuse. An unreasonable accommodation is said to cause undue hardship – generally, an accommodation that would require “significant” expense, time, or disruption to the regular routine. As one might imagine, “significant” will vary between employers – what is easy for a large conglomerate may be quite difficult for a mom-and-pop business. However, financial expense is not usually enough to justify an undue hardship finding; more must be involved.
If you ask for accommodation and it is denied, that is generally within the employer’s rights to do, as long as they can prove that it would be a hardship. However, some employers attempt to ignore reasonable requests, and that is actionable. If you are certain that your request was not simply misunderstood, it is best at that point to speak to an attorney, as it may be necessary to file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Going to those lengths may not be necessary, but either way, many employers respond more quickly and decisively to requests when an attorney is involved.
Contact Experienced Legal Help
Asking for accommodation can be intimidating to begin with, even before delving into the jargon and procedure. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and the professionals at Hitchcock & Potts are happy to help you through the process and answer any questions along the way, even if your employer’s refusal leads to an EEOC charge. You deserve what you are entitled to under the law. Contact us today at our Charleston offices via telephone or web to set up an initial consultation.