For Employers: Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable Accommodations and Employer Compliance

Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADAA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA), an employer with 15 or more employees has a duty to make a "reasonable accommodation" to avoid discriminating against an employee or job applicant with a physical or mental disability. Employment agencies have the same duty, as do labor organizations, who must make reasonable accommodations for union members with disabilities.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

With regard to disibility, reasonable accommodation means steps which must be taken to accommodate the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified disabled person unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (undue hardship). This includes, but is not limited to, (nor does it necessarily require),

  • making facilities readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities,
  • job restructuring,
  • modified work schedules,
  • reassignment to a vacant position,
  • acquisition or modification of equipment or devices,
  • granting a leave of absence and the provision of aides on a temporary or periodic basis.

An employer is not necessarily required to furnish the accommodation preferred by a job applicant or employee, provided that the accommodation offered is effective. An accommodation is effective if:

  • it gives an applicant with a disability equal opportunity to participate in the job application and hiring process;
  • it removes barriers to performance of essential job functions; or if
  • it allows an employee with a disability equal access to the privileges and benefits of employment.

Read more about reasonable accommodations in the FAQ section.

But what's reasonable? What kind of accommodation will likely be required?

While individual cases may require other solutions, here are some examples of the kinds of things employers may be expected to do to comply with the ADAA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

1. Redesign or adjust the work space.

Put a desk up on blocks or lower it so that a person who uses a wheelchair is at the proper height. Make sure the aisles are wide enough for that person to get around.

2. Offer changes in scheduling.

A person who has carpel tunnel syndrome, for example, may need variety in work, with tasks intermingled so he or she isn't typing for six hours straight, then filing for two hours. A person with diabetes may need more frequent but shorter breaks for dietary reasons. And in some cases, such as with an employee who has a sleep disorder, making a reasonable accommodation might require permitting the employee to change shifts.

3. Provide special equipment.

Employees with impaired vision or hearing, for example, may require an accommodation in the form of equipment that allows them to access a computer or communicate effectively with others.

4. Provide an interpreter.

If technology isn't the answer for an employee with a disability, the employer may be required to provide an interpreter in some situations.

5. Provide materials in alternate formats.

Provide training manuals and other company publications in alternative formats such as large-print, audio recordings, or Braille. The requirement could extend to tests or examinations, statements of company policy, and notices of job vacancies.

6. Provide additional unpaid leave.

Whether an employee has a physical or mental disability, granting additional unpaid time off, beyond available sick time or Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off, may be considered a reasonable accommodation in some cases.

7. Ensure that break rooms are accessible to people with disabilities.

If a break room is on the second floor and there is no elevator, that could be discriminatory. Moving the break room to the first floor could be one answer, and providing a separate break room on the first floor might be another alternative. But if an accommodation in some way stigmatizes employees with disabilities by segregating them, it may not be an effective accommodation.

8. Allow a service animal.

There is a duty to allow a service animal, and the same requirement applies to public accommodations such as restaurants, as well as schools, public services, housing, credit services and business.

9. Make the job less stressful.

Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues may also constitute a disability requiring a reasonable accommodation. In some cases, some changes in policies or procedures could be required to make a job less stressful for an individual with a disability. Any harassment of an employee with a disability must be promptly addressed by an employer.

10. Offer job reasignment.

If no other accommodation would be effective or reasonable, or if the employee volunteers, an employee with a disability may be accommodated by reassignment to a vacant position for which he or she is already qualified. If this is the only remaining option, the employee should not have to compete for the position or find the job by him or herself, neither of which would be an accommodation.

11. Ensure that "perks" are accessible.

Special classes and social events should also be accessible to employees with disabilities. For example, if an employer decides to offer a "weight watchers" class during lunch as a perk for employees who wish to lose a few pounds, the employer would be required to provide an interpreter so that a hearing-impaired employee could participate.

But suppose a requested accommodation will cost more than a business can afford, or would otherwise create an overwhelming burden?

If it would cause an "undue hardship," an employer can refuse to make a particular accommodation, under both the ADAA and the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The size and resources of the employer are among the factors that can be considered in determining what's reasonable. In addition, the employer does not have to lower production standards, remove essential job duties or compromise safety to make an accommodation, and is generally not required to provide "personal use items" such as eyeglasses and hearing aids.

Read more about reasonable accommodations in the FAQ section.

What if an employee and employer disagree about what kind of accommodation is appropriate?

The employer has some flexibility in determining exactly how to accommodate a disabled individual's needs, and may choose a less expensive option than one proposed — as long as it does the job.