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Reasonable Accommodation Basics for the Disabled

Reasonable accommodation is one of the most complicated concepts businesses must contend with under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, this complexity means that even well-meaning employers can find themselves facing substantial civil liability for misunderstanding the full scope and effect of this important provision.

But the concept of reasonable accommodation also has limits designed to protect employers — especially small ones — from being forced to take on unmanageable obligations to serve employees and applicants with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in hiring and employment. A qualified individual is someone who can perform the essential functions of a position with or without reasonable accommodations to their disabilities. An employer’s duty to provide such an accommodation is limited by two principles:

  • The accommodation is reasonable — Examining the requested or available accommodations in a general sense, is it reasonable in relation to the person’s disability and the duties of the job in question?
  • The accommodation is not an undue burden — Subjectively and in consideration of the particular employer’s size, resources and nature, do available accommodations, although otherwise reasonable, place an undue burden upon that particular employer’s operation.

These principles are, to say the least, highly subjective and are constantly evolving as statutes, case law, regulations and the EEOC’s interpretive guidance change. As a general rule, however, an accommodation is not deemed unreasonable merely because there is some cost associated with it. An accommodation is also not deemed unreasonable simply because it requires some alteration of employer policies, procedures or routines.

It is important for employers to be willing to work with employees and applicants with disabilities to determine their needs and arrive at creative accommodations that minimize costs and disruptions ¾ while still providing for a diverse and inclusive workplace. Consult an experienced Washington, DC employment discrimination lawyer to ensure you are meeting your legal obligations.

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