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Q&A: What is “undue hardship” on a company?

We have had someone request an accommodation for a disability. Can you explain undue hardship?

Under the ADA, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, so long as doing so does not create an undue hardship on the organization. Many state laws also use this standard with respect to accommodations for disability, pregnancy, and lactation, so it’s useful to understand. The basic definition is an action that creates a significant difficulty or expense.

The cost of an accommodation could be an undue hardship on the employer, but so could an accommodation’s duration or disruption. An accommodation that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business would be an undue hardship, even if the cost was negligible. But if cost alone is the basis for claiming an accommodation is unreasonable, employers should remember that the standard is significant expense.

Undue hardship will always be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as there are no hard and fast rules that can be applied. Instead, employers who are hesitant to offer an accommodation should consider the following factors:

• The nature and net cost of the accommodation, taking into consideration the availability of tax credits and deductions, as well as outside funding;
• The overall financial resources of the facility or facilities involved in the provision of the accommodation, the number of individuals employed at the facility, and the effect of the accommodation on expenses and resources;
• The overall financial resources of the covered entity, the overall size of the business of the covered entity with respect to the number of its employees, and the number, type, and location of its facilities;
• The type of operation or operations of the covered entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce, and the geographic separateness and administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities in question to the covered entity; and
• The impact of the accommodation upon the operation of the facility, including the impact on the ability of other employees to perform their duties and the impact on the facility’s ability to conduct business.

An employer cannot claim undue hardship based on employee or customer fears or prejudices toward the individual’s disability. An undue hardship also cannot be based on the possibility that a reasonable accommodation could have a negative impact on the morale of other employees. Employers, however, may be able to show undue hardship where a reasonable accommodation would be excessively disruptive to other employees’ ability to work.

Answer from Kim, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Kim is a results-driven HR Professional with experience from diverse industries, including but not limited to, transportation, environmental services, staffing, pharmaceutical, market research, banking, retail, software development and education non-profit. In her spare time, Kim enjoys the beautiful view from her home and being with her husband and their German shepherd, Fin.

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