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What is a ‘reasonable accommodation?’
Most everyone knows that it’s illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on his or her disability when deciding whom to hire, promote or terminate. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers also have an obligation to make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability.”
However, the ADA includes an important caveat. Employers don’t have to make any accommodation that would cause “undue hardship” to the business. Lawmakers who crafted the ADA back in 1990 were attempting to strike a balance between the right of disabled people to do jobs for which they are qualified and the extent to which businesses have to make modifications in their workplace or their processes to accommodate those employees. Some of these modifications can be costly.
Because of the imprecise language in the law, employees and employers sometimes clash over what a “reasonable accommodation” is. Courts have no clear standards to apply uniformly. Sometimes there’s even disagreement over what constitutes a disability. Someone who is paralyzed or blind, for example, has an obvious physical disability. What about someone who has back problems or is very nearsighted? Can those workers ask for accommodations under the ADA?
The reasonableness of the accommodation also depends on the job. Say that a person is unable to lift heavy objects. If that person works at a desk job, it’s not unreasonable to arrange for someone else to do that for them on occasion — for example, if they need to move their belongings to a new office. However, it certainly wouldn’t be reasonable to seek a job as a UPS driver and ask your employer to have someone else around at all times to lift and carry packages for you. It generally wouldn’t be considered discriminatory for an employer not to hire a person who is unable to perform the necessary physical tasks required in a job.
Most legal disputes regarding reasonable accommodations are less clear-cut than the examples noted above. If you believe that your employer is not providing reasonable accommodations for your disability that would allow you to do your job, it may be wise to seek guidance from an Arizona employment discrimination attorney to help ensure that your rights are protected.