Q & A – Are there circumstances where an accommodation is unreasonable?

Q: Are there circumstances where an accommodation is unreasonable?

A: Yes, employers are not required to make accommodations that would result in undue hardship or where the employee’s disability creates a direct threat that cannot be removed through the accommodation process.

“Undue hardship” is a legal term, defined as an accommodation which would pose significant difficulty, expense, or disruption in operations in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available, and the nature of the operation.  This is determined on a case-by-case basis.  Factors to consider in determining undue hardship include:

• The nature and cost of the accommodation;
• The financial resources of the employer;
• The number of employees at the facility; and
• The financial resources of any parent company.

If a requested accommodation poses undue hardship, employers should consider alternative reasonable accommodations that eliminate undue hardship.
Employers may require that an employee not pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of the employee or others.  A direct threat exists where there is:

• A significant risk of substantial harm to the employee or others with whom the employee contacts;
• A specific risk that can be identified;
• A current risk; and
• A risk that cannot be eliminated or reduced below the level of direct threat by means of reasonable accommodation.

Both the undue hardship and direct threat “defenses” are interpreted narrowly and are not appropriate in most ADA situations.