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What is Reasonable Accommodation and What is my Responsibility as a Small Business Owner?

written by: N. Plowman•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 1/11/2010

The ADA protects qualifying individuals from employment discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation; however, adjustments must not elicit undue hardship for employers. This article explains the ADA and identifies examples of justified and unjustified accommodations.

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    The Americans with Disabilities Act

    In addition to the federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, skin color, national origin, sex, and age, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is another significant law that protects disabled employees and job applicants. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces and regulates all employment-based aspects of the ADA by requiring that all employers with fifteen or more employees comply with the ADA.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits an employer from unfairly discriminating against individuals meeting certain disability qualifications in all aspects of employment. Such areas include, but are not limited to, applicant screening processes, interview tactics, selection procedures, training and development opportunities, transfer or promotion to other positions, benefits and compensation, and termination decisions.

    Although the implied recipient of the Americans with Disabilities Act is any disabled individual, the law also equally protects other qualifying individuals. Therefore, according to the ADA, the following individuals are protected against employment discrimination:

    • individuals with a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities"
    • individuals with a known “record of such an impairment"
    • individuals that have “a known association or relationship with a disabled individual"
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    Reasonable Accommodations

    The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all employers reasonably accommodate all individuals protected by the ADA in all aspects of employment, as long as the accommodation does not bring “undue hardship" to the employer.

    Therefore, if a disabled candidate meets all required qualifications and experiences listed in the job description for a vacant position, an employer is obligated to provide reasonable accommodation to the candidate, which will significantly assist in the application and selection process. Furthermore, if a qualified candidate can satisfactorily perform all key functions of a position, but requires reasonable accommodation to do so, an employer cannot deny employment to the candidate.

    Handicap Sign Some examples of reasonable accommodations that usually do not cause undue hardship include:

    • making facilities more accessible to the disabled individual
    • restructuring the job without eliminating any essential functions of the position
    • providing an opportunity for the disabled individual to work a modified, flex, or part-time work schedule
    • providing training opportunities and resources to improve performance and ability to meet expectations
    • acquiring or modifying equipment to better suit the disabled individual
    • transferring the disabled individual to another vacant position for which he or she is qualified

    Any accommodations that prove to be especially difficult or very costly, with respect to a company’s size and available resources, are not considered reasonable and are not required under the ADA. In these situations, an employer is not obligated to accommodate the disabled individual and alternative employment arrangements can be made. Some examples of accommodations that might constitute “undue hardship" include:

    • requiring an employer to significantly alter a position for the disabled individual
    • requiring an employer to create a position especially for the disabled individual
    • requiring an employer to transfer the disabled individual to another position for which he or she is not qualified
    • requiring a significant purchase of material or equipment to accommodate the disabled individual
    • requesting an accommodation that would negatively affect the company’s financial positioning or productivity, thus significantly jeopardizing company well-being and employee satisfaction
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    Future Considerations for Small Business Owners

    Although the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with fifteen or more employees to reasonably accommodate and not discriminate against disabled individuals, it is highly recommended that all employers implement processes that accomplish this goal, regardless of workforce size. Remember, it is easier to develop and implement fair, ethical, and disability-friendly practices while a company is small and flexible rather than having to react accordingly when the situation arises at a time when resources are not so flexible.

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