Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship

Under Title I of the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities if needed to be successful in performing their jobs.

The ADA recognizes that there are circumstances in which an accommodation could cause an "undue hardship" for the employer. Employers are not required to put accommodations in place that would pose an undue hardship. In other words, an accommodation that causes an undue hardship would fall outside of what is considered "reasonable" for the employer to provide.

How do employers make this determination? The ADA sets forth criteria as to what actions are considered an undue hardship. Employers should use these criteria to evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether an accommodation would cause an undue hardship.

Undue Hardship

Accommodations are considered an undue hardship when it:

  • Would cause the employer undue financial hardship.
  • Would be too extensive or disruptive.
  • Would fundamentally change the nature or operation of the business/job.

Undue Financial Hardship

Financial hardship must be based on the overall operating budget. This assessment will vary from employer to employer. Depending upon size and financial resources, what would cause financial hardship for one business may not cause financial hardship for another.

Suppose an employer finds an accommodation will be too costly. In that case, the employer should try to determine if funding is available from another source such as a state rehabilitation agency or if the employer is eligible for tax credits that will help pay for the accommodation.

Undue Hardship Based on Disruption to Operations

Sometimes the difficulty in providing an accommodation is not cost, but rather the effect the accommodation will have on business operations. In this case, undue hardship is the impact on other employees' ability to perform their duties or the impact on the organization's ability to conduct business.

Example: An employee asks for a flexible schedule with later morning hours. However, the business has to open at a specific time for customers and has a limited number of employees trained to provide certain services. These factors make this particular accommodation impossible to provide without requiring other employees to do extra work or leave the business understaffed at key times.  

Another example of an accommodation that could be disruptive to business operations would be a request for continual supervisor check-ins to review an employee's work, leaving the supervisor with little time for other duties.

When an employer decides an accommodation would disruptive to business operations, the employer should still try to find another type of accommodation that could be provided. Consider the previous example of the employee asking for later morning hours. If another position was available in the evening, the employer could offer that position as an alternative to the original request.  

Fundamental Change to the Nature of the Business

Some accommodation requests may go beyond impacting other employees or business operations. Implementing these accommodation requests could result in a fundamental change to the entire business or government service. 

Example: An usher at a theatre who has low vision asks that lights inside the theatre never be turned below a certain level. However, dim lighting and, at times, a completely darkened room are necessary for a theatre to operate.   

Example: A radiologist technician at a hospital has excellent technical skills but experiences high levels of social anxiety and does not like to communicate with patients or colleagues. He requests to have another employee handle all personal interactions. This request could affect the fundamental nature of the hospital's services, which is providing quality patient care.

Note: Employers should still try to find an alternative or lesser accommodation, if possible, whenever the initial accommodation request would change the fundamental nature of the business.

How should employers determine if an accommodation request would pose an undue hardship?

Employers should evaluate each accommodation request on a case by case basis based on the explanation of undue hardship given above. Employers should also take into consideration the following factors:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
     
  • the overall financial resources of the facility making the reasonable accommodation; the number of persons employed at this facility; the effect on expenses and resources of the facility;
     
  • the overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer (if the facility involved in the reasonable accommodation is part of a larger entity);
     
  • the type of operation of the employer, including the structure and functions of the workforce, the geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility involved in making the accommodation to the employer;

Note that the impact of providing accommodations can vary widely from workplace to workplace. The impact of an accommodation on different types of jobs within the same workplace will also vary widely. Just because a request was found to be an undue hardship in one situation does not mean it will cause a legitimate undue hardship in all situations.

For more detailed information about reasonable accommodations and undue hardship, visit the EEOC's guidance document, Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA.