When can companies refuse disability accommodation requests?

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2023 | Disability Discrimination |

Some people have a genetic condition that worsens as they age. Others may acquire a condition due to injury or pathogen exposure. Regardless of how someone acquires a disabling medical condition, they have certain rights under federal statutes. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most important sources of protection for those with health challenges. The ADA establishes the right to request reasonable accommodations from an employer. As a result, companies are broadly prohibited from discriminating against workers who are capable of performing a job with reasonable accommodations.

Unfortunately, both those applying for new jobs and those requesting support after acquiring a health challenge may find that their employers are less than enthusiastic about the need to accommodate a worker. When does a company have the right to refuse a worker’s accommodation request?

Companies do not have to accept undue hardship

The ADA only requires that employers offer reasonable accommodations. An accommodation stops being reasonable when it imposes an undue hardship on the organization. The size of a company, its finances and even its functions can influence what accommodations are reasonable and what would be the source of undue hardship.

For example, a business just barely big enough for the ADA to apply may have limits to how much funding it can dedicate to remodeling a workspace. However, most businesses can afford basic assistive technology or modifications to make a workspace more accessible. Certain accommodations, like allowing a white-collar worker to do their job from home, will not cost a company anything and may even reduce operational expenses.

Companies would need to establish either that the accommodation request was not appropriate given the worker’s medical condition or that accommodating the worker would create a hardship for the organization. Whether a worker needs an accessible bathroom, software that helps them read despite visual impairment or scheduling changes, a company will need proof that the denied accommodation would create significant financial or operational challenges for the organization.

Simply imposing a cost does not mean that an accommodation request generates an undue hardship. The more successful the company is and the more documentation a worker has affirming the need for certain accommodations, the better the chances that a worker could hold their employer accountable for discriminating by refusing to provide them with reasonable accommodations.

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