When does a reasonable accommodation create undue hardship?
An employer must make reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability, unless the accommodation would create undue hardship: significant expense or difficulty, given the size, resources, and structure of the employer. The undue hardship defense recognizes that there are limits to the burden employers should bear in making workplaces and jobs accessible to those with disabilities.
In determining whether an accommodation creates an undue hardship, courts look at:
Whether an accommodation would create undue hardship isn't just a cost/benefit analysis. If an accommodation is very expensive, that fact alone might create undue hardship, particularly if the employer has limited resources. But even inexpensive modifications can create undue hardship, depending on the nature of the business. For example, installing a loud bell and public address system or bright lighting in a soothing spa could create undue hardship by altering the entire character of the business.
If one proposed accommodation would create undue hardship, the employer and employee should work together to see whether they can come up with an accommodation that will be effective. For example, although it might create undue hardship to install bright lighting throughout a spa and wellness center, the employer might agree to create a private office space where an employee with impaired vision can do paperwork and calendaring -- and light that small space to the hilt. Or, rather than purchasing a company van fully outfitted to be driven by an employee who uses a wheelchair, an employer might offer to reimburse the employee for using his own vehicle when it's necessary to drive for business.
You can find lots of accommodation ideas for a variety of disabilities at the website of the Job Accommodation Network (JAN).