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Being Reasonable About Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable Accommodations
Like many employers, you probably have questions about reasonable accommodations and what they entail. Here's what you need to know.

Under Title I of the ADA, employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities. Like many employers, you probably have questions about “reasonable accommodations” and what they entail. Here’s what you need to know:

Are you required to comply with Title I of the ADA?

While Title I applies to most companies, there are some exceptions. You’re generally required to comply with the law if your organization:

  • Has 15 or more employees.
  • Is an employment agency.
  • Is a labor organization.
  • Is a joint labor-management committee.

Furthermore, the law only applies to “qualified employees with disabilities.” According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this includes “a person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education or other requirements of an employment position that he or she holds or seeks, and who can perform the ‘essential functions’ of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.”

What are reasonable accommodations?

Reasonable accommodations” simply means adjustments you can make to a workplace or job that allows an employee with a disability to have the same advantages as an employee without a disability in the same position. These modifications are typically implemented to help the employee’s performance, provide certain work benefits, or allow the employee to perform necessary job functions.

What should your reasonable accommodations strategy be?

To prevent discrimination and possible lawsuits, you should have a reasonable accommodations strategy in place. Here are some good policies to follow:

  • Don’t ask employees if they need accommodations. You’re only required to provide reasonable accommodations for a known disability, and some employees might be offended if you question their abilities. Though you may be tempted to be proactive, it’s best to wait until the employee approaches you with the concern. However, there are exceptions. If the job is physically demanding, you may ask disability-related questions and require a medical screening before an employee starts work, as long as you follow the same procedures for all of your employees.
  • Budget for reasonable accommodations. It’s common for employees to ask for simple modifications, such as a special keyboard or desk chair. Studies show that 88 percent of accommodations cost less than $1,000, 50 percent cost less than $50, and 31 percent cost nothing at all. If you include a line item for reasonable accommodations within your monthly or quarterly budget, you should have no problem meeting these requests when needed.

Undue Hardship

Undue hardship may apply to a request that is too expensive for your company. Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule for what constitutes “undue hardship” – it varies from one case to the next. If you feel undue hardship applies, you should offer an alternative accommodation that’s more affordable or offer to share the cost with your employee. In most cases, it’s best to avoid a lawsuit by working with your employee to find an agreeable solution.