What is a “reasonable accommodation?”


Photo Credit: Sabeel Ahammed

As an employer, you are in a position to grant or deny employee requests on a regular basis. These requests can be as simple as providing healthier snacks in the break room or as complicated as overhauling entire programs and systems. Most will fall somewhere in the middle.

For instance, if an employee has a disability and requests an accommodation to be able to perform the essential functions of his/her/their job, you might find yourself struggling to decide not only if you can provide the accommodation but also if you are obligated to do so. Below, we examine what a reasonable accommodation looks like and when you will be required to make them.

What does ‘reasonable’ mean?

As noted by the United States Department of Labor, examples of a reasonable accommodation might include:

  • Wheelchair-accessible ramps and bathrooms
  • Modified workspaces, including a larger cube or lower working surfaces
  • Video or audio software
  • Alternative work schedules

Examples of unreasonable accommodations might include:

  • Changes in organizational structures
  • Creation of a private office or private access to a building
  • Elimination of critical job functions
  • Providing services for personal, not professional, purposes

When must you make these accommodations?

As long as an accommodation does not pose an undue hardship on an employer, you are required to provide them for workers with a disability. An undue hardship refers to anything that demands excessive resources or is extremely expensive.

However, keep in mind that federal laws dictate that these obligations refer specifically to employers covered by the Americans with Disability Act with 15 or more employees. If you are not a covered employer with at least 15 employees, you are not subject to these same requirements.  (Note that while the Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits all employers, regardless of size, from discriminating against employees with disabilities, Minnesota follows the federal law in regard to  reasonable accommodations, requiring compliance only for employers with 15 or more employees.)

When in doubt, consult an attorney

If you are unsure about providing an accommodation to current or prospective employees, it can be wise to consult an attorney before making any decisions. Making the wrong decision – intentionally or not – could prove to be a costly mistake with serious financial and legal ramifications.