Disability Discrimination - What is a Reasonable Accommodation?


Under California law, a disabled employee is entitled to a reasonable accommodation to allow the employee to continue do their job in spite of their disability. An employer must offer a disabled employee a reasonable accommodation, unless doing so would be an undue hardship.

An employer is only under an obligation to offer a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee if the employer is aware of the employee's disability. Thus, a disabled employee must make clear to their employer that they have a disability.

Tip: If an employee has a disability, the best practice is for an employee to inform their employer, in writing, about their disability.

What are possible reasonable accommodations?

What is a reasonable accommodation depends on an employee's disability, the nature of the employee's work, and the employer's business. Again, the purpose of a reasonable accommodation is to find a way for a disabled employee to continue to be able to perform the essential functions of their job even though they have a disability.

The following have been found to be reasonable accommodations:

  • Changing work facilities to make accessible and usable (including, providing accessible break rooms, restrooms, training rooms or reserved parking places, acquiring or modifying furniture, equipment or devices or other similar adjustments);

  • Restructuring an employee's job;

  • Offering an employee part-time work or a modified work schedule;

  • Reassigning an employee to a vacant position;

  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices;

  • Providing an employee with an interpreter;

  • Allowing an employee to have an assistive animal at work;

  • Altering when and/or how an essential function is performed;

  • Permitting an employee to work from home; and,

  • Providing an employee with a leave for treatment and recovery.

Take-away: Once an employer is aware that an employee has a disability, an employer must try to find a way for the employee to be able to continue to successfully perform their essential job duties.

Undue Hardship – An Employer's Defense

If an employer can demonstrate that accommodating an employee's disability would cause an undue hardship, then the employer is not required to provide an accommodation. The burden of making this showing falls on the employer.

An accommodation is an undue hardship when it would require “significant difficulty or expense” when considered in light of the following factors:

  • The nature and cost of the accommodation needed;

  • The overall financial resources of the employer's facility, including the number of persons employed and the effect of the accommodation on expenses and resources or on the operations of the employer's facility, such as the impact on other employees' ability to perform their duties and the employer's facility's ability to conduct business;

  • The overall resources of the employer, the overall size of the business with respect to the number of employees, and the number, type and location of the covered entity's facilities;

  • The type of operations of the employer entity, including the composition, structure and functions of its workforce; and

  • Geographic separateness, administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities involved.

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