Employers Must Accommodate Employees Unless it Presents an Undue Hardship
In our last article, we discussed the protections afforded to disabled individuals in the hiring process. As we mentioned, qualified individuals with disabilities are entitled to “reasonable accommodations” to allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. However, an employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it will cause an undue hardship for the employer. In general, employers must accommodate employees unless it presents an undue hardship.
But what is an undue hardship?
An undue hardship occurs when providing the requested accommodation will substantially interfere with the employer’s ability to carry out business. There are a variety of reasons why an employer may not be able to grant a request for an accommodation. Some of these reasons include: instances when granting such a request renders the employer unable to comply with federal or state laws, where health or safety would be compromised, when the job function cannot be performed by another employee, or where the expense is too great.
Massachusetts law outlines several specific considerations for determining an undue hardship:
1. The overall size of the employer’s business with respect to the number of employees, the number and type of facilities, and the size of budget or available assets.
2. The type of the employer’s operation, including the composition and structure of the employee’s workforce.
3. The nature and cost of the accommodation needed.
As the factors listed above indicate, there are several different items that must be weighed when determining whether an accommodation would pose an undue hardship. Notably, what may constitute an undue hardship to one employer may not be an undue hardship to another employer, so these determinations must be made on a case-by-case basis.
In cases where providing an accommodation creates an undue hardship for an employer, the employer must consider alternative accommodations that would not impose an undue hardship. To this end, employers and employees must work together through an interactive process to determine what constitutes a reasonable accommodation and how to best implement such accommodation.
If, after considering alternatives, an employer determines that it cannot reasonably accommodate an employee, the employer or employee may wish to consult legal counsel to ensure there are sound business reasons for denying the accommodation request.