What exactly IS Reasonable when it comes to accommodations?
Most employers are aware of their legal obligations (both under ADA Federal law and FEHA California law) to consider reasonable accommodations for employees or applicants who, because of a disability, may have difficulties performing the essential functions of the job.
The number one question I get from employers on the subject is “what IS and what IS NOT reasonable and who gets to decide”? And that is a good question.
According to the DFEH, “Reasonable accommodation is any appropriate measure that would allow the applicant or employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the job.” In the publication “Disability Under the Fair Employment & Housing Act: What you should know about the law”, DFEH goes on to add that employers can deny accommodations if it would pose an “undue hardship” on the organization.
So how exactly does an employer go about deciding what they deem to be reasonable? There are two critical factors that employers should keep in mind. First, the analysis of what accommodations might be needed and/or feasible to support an employee in performing the essential functions must be a case-by-case analysis specific to the facts at hand. Through the “interactive process” the employer should discuss with the employee exactly how the disability is affecting their ability to successfully and safely perform their job (along with having the employee provide the appropriate documentation from their doctor). The job description is an important tool in the discussion regarding the essential functions of the job, but does not replace a “reality check” of discussing what the individual employee performing the job is required to do – specific to the location they work at, the department they work in, and other factors that might result in variations of how the job is actually performed.
The second factor to keep in mind when assessing what is reasonable is that in the end, the accommodation must be effective in order to be deemed reasonable. That is, does the accommodation support the employee in successfully performing all of the essential functions of the job? Employers are not required to remove essential functions as an accommodation, nor do they need to lower productivity or performance standards. Reasonable accommodations are not intended to require the employer and employee to “settle for less” – that should never be the goal or considered satisfactory as the end result. The intent of the law is to encourage employers to provide the assistance that would support employees with disabilities in being able to DO their job. And that is what the disabled employee wants as well.
Employers who engage in a good faith interactive process with the disabled individual, and who apply this case-by- case analysis with the goal of finding ways to support successful performance of the job will not only experience more positive outcomes and keep valuable employees working, but will also be far less likely to run the risk of discrimination and legal complications.