What is undue hardship?

As many know, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) leveled the playing field for disabled Americans in the workforce. It prevents discrimination, hiring and firing of workers based on physical and mental impairments who are qualified for the work.

The question people always ask, though, is “What if?”

There are instances when a disabled applicant can be denied or removed from a job, and this comes from the undue hardship clause. The gist is that if a person’s disability cannot be accommodated within reasonable measures, it doesn’t violate the act.

There are varied reasons why it may not work for a company to hire a disabled employee, including the following:


An expansive rationale, cost means everything from workplace design and setup to providing equipment specialized to the needs of the disabled employee. Providing a standing desk for a worker with a bad back is generally an affordable expense, but relocating or replacing key equipment may not be. Allowing a service dog in an office may require some reorganization or air filters for allergic employees, but those are relatively minor costs.

Impact on the business

The size and budget of a company influences the ability to accommodate. If the cost of specialized equipment will put margins at risk, it may be acceptable to deny a request. Small companies with fewer than 15 employees are subject to different guidelines but all state and federal companies must adhere, regardless of staff size.

Structure and function of business

While most jobs can be adjusted using different structure or technology, certain tasks require physical tools that may not be available to everyone. A wheelchair bound employee, no matter the accommodations, cannot walk a circus tightrope. The circus can offer a different position, but physical conditions prevent this job.

Discrimination is illegal, hardship is not

The ADA is an important law that gives equal opportunity for employment, regardless of visible or invisible disabilities. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans has a disability. It’s an employer’s duty to meet your needs to provide a safe and efficient workspace free of harassment or discrimination.

The exceptions given in the ADA are complicated and nuanced between each potential employer and line of work. If there is question concerning undue hardship and your rights to employment, it’s best to work with an employment attorney to confirm if the appropriate accommodations can be made. Reasonable accommodation is a wide reaching allowance and, in most cases, it’s easily achieved without breaking the bank.

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