Ask an HR Pro: How Should My Company Handle a Difficult or Costly ADA Accommodation Request?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. For companies with 15 or more employees within the current or proceeding year, the ADA imposes a duty upon the employer to provide “reasonable accommodations” to aid employees in performing the essential functions of their job.

But what if you can’t make an accommodation due to cost or other factors? Learning that you must make an adjustment to your business can be stressful, especially if you’re not sure what needs to be done or if you’re even capable of making an ADA accommodation. You do have the option to decline a request for accommodation, but it’s not as straightforward as that.

In this Ask an HR Pro, Lisa Shuster, Chief People Officer at iHire, and Vickie Krolak, iHire HR Consultant, weigh in on difficult ADA accommodation requests.

 

 

What is an Undue Hardship?

“An accommodation is not reasonable if it creates an undue hardship for the employer,” Shuster said. “What causes an undue hardship is considered on a case-by-case basis and is fact-specific.”

How can you be sure if an accommodation would be an undue hardship for your business, legally speaking? Factors that can label an accommodation as an undue hardship are:

  • The cost of the request in relation to the size of the business
  • The company’s financial resources
  • The structure of the employer's operation

“It should be noted that it’s a high bar to meet because it requires the employer to identify specific and significant difficulties or expenses that the suggested accommodation would create,” Shuster explained. “Most accommodations cost less than $500.”

Krolak gave these examples of undue hardship under the ADA:  

  • Removing an essential function of one’s duties – If the employee can no longer perform the essential functions of their job and all options to accommodate have been exhausted.   
  • Significantly impacting the business – If an employee requests a job share but works for a small business that does not have the revenue to support an additional hire to share the workload.
  • Reassignment of work to another coworker – If the accommodation would result in putting additional workload onto another employee.

 

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Evaluating a Request for Accommodation

When receiving a request for an ADA accommodation, you shouldn’t respond off the cuff. Don’t tell an employee something is unreasonable until you’ve thoroughly looked at all the options.

“Employers should make every effort in good faith to accommodate and consider all options before denying a request,” Krolak said. “Employers need to make this an interactive process and can work with the employee on a cost-share – this should be given as an option.” There are even options to get funding from government agencies in some cases.

HR and the employee’s manager need to participate in the interactive process. They first should identify the need for the accommodation and the employee’s precise limitations resulting from the disability. Then, discuss and weigh the potential accommodations that could overcome those limitations. Be sure to document whether the employee requested a specific accommodation, why the employee made the request, and alternative options explored.

Next, the supervisor should weigh the benefits and detriments of each option and discuss them with the employee while maintaining thorough documentation of the discussion. The manager and HR should review the job description to determine if the employee can perform the essential functions of the job. In some cases, a medical verification will need to be provided by a medical provider if the disability is not obvious, and a copy of the job description will need to be given to the health care provider. Remember, any medical information collected will need to be kept in a confidential file separate from the employee’s personnel file. Finally, record the ultimate decision as well as the reasoning behind any denied requests.

 

 

ADA Accommodation Options to Consider

When looking into alternative options, Shuster said the following examples of reasonable accommodations should be considered, among others:

  • Restructuring jobs
  • Reassigning the employee to a vacant position
  • Modifying work schedules
  • Assisting the employee with nonessential job functions
  • Reassigning nonessential job functions
  • Modifying equipment or devices
  • Offering assistive devices
  • Making facilities usable and accessible
  • Providing interpreters or qualified readers
  • Providing additional unpaid leave

 

If you need assistance with an accommodation, there are outside resources available to help with the cost of the request. Remember, documentation of all conversations needs to be kept, and in some cases seeking legal advice may be required. For more diversity and inclusion resources, head to our Employer Resource Center.

by: Doug Atkinson
February 23, 2022