Most Minnesota employers are typically happy to employ anyone who can perform the essential functions of the job. This includes people who are disabled or have other considerations that must be factored in when determining whether they are able to perform the essential functions of the position they seek, with or without a reasonable accommodation. Still, the laws applicable to what is required of an employer who is asked to provide reasonable accommodation have their limits. Requests for reasonable accommodations based on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) guidelines include an analysis of whether such requests create or have the possibility of creating an undue hardship on the employer and employers should know that the undue hardship defense remains as a viable defense under the right circumstances.
At the onset, it is wise for employers to understand what issues can be considered when they believe they may be facing an undue hardship. If the changes needed to accommodate the employee or prospective employee result in large expenditures or are unreasonably difficult to implement, such circumstances could lead to a determination that the employer is facing an undue hardship. Factors that also will need to be considered as a part of the analysis include what are the changes required; how much will the changes cost; the employer’s financial ability to make the changes; how many people work at the employer’s facility; what effect the proposed changes will have on the resources and expenses of the facility; what is the nature of the business; where is the business located; and how the business’ operations will be impacted by the proposed accommodation.
The net cost the employer must incur is one of the key considerations when seeking to establish that a requested accommodation causes an undue hardship. As an example, if there is outside funding available that will allow the employer to make the changes without causing major problems to its operations, then doing so would not be considered as causing an undue hardship. In addition, an employer may consider other forms of reasonable accommodation that are less expensive than the one requested even though the more expensive option might be preferred by the employee. The employer can actually negotiate with the employee through use of a process known as an interactive dialogue. That process is designed to help the employer and the employee attempt to reach a mutually acceptable solution that will benefit both the employer and employee, a solution that will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the position without resulting in an undue hardship for the employer.
Things that an employer may not consider as a part of this process are concerns about how customers might react to the person working under an accommodation at the employer’s place of business. In addition, employers may not use how other employees feel about the proposed accommodation to support a claim of undue hardship, however, the existence of a substantial disruption to other employees’ work resulting from the proposed reasonable accommodation could rise to the level of an undue hardship if the disruption is significant.
While employers who seek to assert a claim of undue hardship when responding to a request for reasonable accommodation run the risk of being cast in a negative light, at the end of the day employers retain the right to be able to operate their businesses in a profitable way. If an employer is truly having challenges trying to accommodate the needs of an employee, the undue hardship defense remains as a potential option that should be evaluated and considered as a part of the employer’s response to a request for a reasonable accommodation.
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