Employee Accommodations: What’s Reasonable and What’s Not

In addition to having a covered disability, in order to be protected by the law, the individual must also be a qualified individual with a disability.

Recent lawsuits, including Hyatt Corporation's refusal to provide a chair to a front desk employee with a back problem, underscore the responsibility of employers to provide reasonable accommodations to their employees. In a new guide, XpertHR explores which employee accommodation requests are reasonable and which are not - from requests by hearing-impaired and disabled employees to telecommuting and leave of absences.

Full-time and part-time employees and even job applicants are entitled to reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A reasonable accommodation for ADA purposes is an accommodation the employer can adopt without undue hardship that will enable the individual to perform the essential functions of the job.

"In addition to having a covered disability, in order to be protected by the law, the individual must also be a qualified individual with a disability," says Melissa Silver, JD, Legal Editor, XpertHR. "A qualified individual with a disability is a person who has the skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the position, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job."

What's Reasonable and What's Not

Reasonable Accommodations

Examples of reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing an employee with a hearing impairment a teletypewriter
  • Providing a cashier with a disability a stool
  • Providing an employee with a disability a parking space near the workplace
  • Ensuring that recruitment, interviews, tests and other components of the application process are held in accessible locations
  • Providing written materials in accessible formats, such as large print, Braille or audiotape during the hiring process

Unreasonable Accommodations

Because each accommodation request is fact-specific, the reasonableness must be considered on a case-by-case basis. The following are examples of accommodations that courts have found to be unreasonable:

  • Telecommute four days a week: The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee) en banc ruling in EEOC v. Ford Motor Company which held that the employee's accommodation request to telecommute four days a week was not reasonable because her essential job function required regular and predictable on-site attendance.
  • Multi-month leave of absence: The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (covering Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) ruled in Severson v. Heartland Woodcraft, Inc., determined that a multi-month leave of absence is not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Further, examples of unreasonable accommodations may include those that:

  • Cause the employer to lower production standards;
  • Remove an essential job function; or
  • Require the employer to excuse violations of conduct rules.

The XpertHR guide provides the following steps to assess whether an individual's accommodation request is reasonable:

1.    Establish Written Policies and Procedures for Handling Accommodation Requests

2.    Confirm That the Individual Is a Qualified Individual With a Disability

3.    Recognize an Accommodation Request

4.    Engage in the Interactive Process

5.    Evaluate Requests on a Case-By-Case Basis

6.    Review Possible Reasonable Accommodations

7.    Understand What Makes an Accommodation Effective

8.    Evaluate Whether Certain Conditions Make the Accommodation Unreasonable

9.    Evaluate Whether the Proposed Accommodation Will Create an Undue Hardship for the Employer

10.    Discuss All Possible Accommodations

11.    Consider Hiring an Outside Third-Party Consultant or Expert

12.    Remember the Employer's Obligations Are Ongoing

13.    Document the Interactive Process

Employers needs to keep in mind that the ADA generally requires employers to engage in an interactive process with the employee during which accommodation options are explored.

To download the free guide "How to Assess Whether an Employee's Request for Accommodation Is Reasonable," visit XpertHR.


Editor's Note: Melissa Silver, JD, XpertHR Legal Editor, is available for interview and to provide an article on employee accommodations. If you use any of this material, please include a link to https://bit.ly/2HXvx2F.

Media Contact:
Beth Brody

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