Introduction to Undue Hardships and Avoiding Making Reasonable Accommodations
When an employee requests that his or her employer make a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability, religious belief, or other protected concern, the employer can take one of three courses of action: first, the employer can make the requested accommodation for the worker. In this case, the matter is considered resolved and the employer need not make any other finding or showing to protect itself against a claim of discrimination (at least as far as the employee requesting the accommodation is concerned. In the alternative, the employer may choose to accommodate the employee in a way that is different than the manner requested or the employer may choose to make no accommodation at all. If the employer chooses either of these two options, then the employer must be prepared to show that accommodating the request would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
What Constitutes an Undue Hardship?
An employer cannot simply claim that it is too burdensome or difficult to implement an employee’s request for accommodations. Instead, the employer must be able to demonstrate with objective evidence that accommodating the employee’s protected concern causes more than a minimal burden on the employer’s operations. It is expected and anticipated that any request has the potential to cause the employer and other workers some amount of inconvenience: this generally does not rise to the level of undue hardship. For example, an employee whose religious beliefs require him to attend religious services every Wednesday afternoon may impose some burden on the employer in that work schedules may have to be arranged and other employees may not be able to take a break at this moment. This would not, however, rise to the level of an “undue hardship.” For additional information see the EEOC website on undue hardships and reasonable accommodations.
A requested accommodation may constitute an undue hardship if one or more of the following circumstances are met:
- A substantial cost to the employer. Employers are not required to make accommodations that would cost the employer a substantial amount of money. This threshold amount will differ from situation to situation depending on each employer’s finances and assets. An accommodation that will require $10,000 worth of improvements to a building may be an undue hardship for a small “Mom-and-Pop” operation but may not be a significant expense for a larger business.
- A threat to safety. Employers do not have to make accommodations if the accommodation would jeopardize workplace safety or endanger the individual or other employees. For example, a worker whose religion requires him to grow and maintain a long beard may not be entitled to an accommodation from an employer with a strict “no facial hair” policy if the workplace environment has many machines in which facial hair can become entangled.
- Requires other employees to do a larger share of heavy or dangerous work. If a requested accommodation would unfairly burden other employees or require them to do more of the difficult or dangerous work, an employer may be able to avoid making the accommodation on the grounds of undue hardship. For instance, an employer that receives dangerous chemicals every day at a particular time may be able to claim an “undue hardship” if one employee requests time off each and every day for religious reasons if the time the employee requests off coincides with the time the dangerous chemicals are delivered.
The burden is always on the employer to show that one or more requested accommodations would impose too great of a burden on the employer’s business operations. If the employer is unable to do so, failing to make the requested accommodation or other reasonable accommodations can result in the employer being sanctioned by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or other similar, state-level agencies. Contact an experienced Phoenix employment lawyer for additional information.