Hiring the Disabled: What Are Reasonable Accommodations?

The question of how far an employer must go to accommodate a disabled employee is at the very heart of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Answering that question starts with understanding the term “reasonable accommodations.”

An accommodation is any change in the physical workplace, or in the methodology usually employed to perform a job, that allows a qualified individual with a disability to apply for and hold that particular job.

 There are three categories of reasonable accommodations:

  • changes to a job application process that enable a qualified disabled applicant to be considered for the position.
  • changes to the physical work environment, or to the manner in which a job is normally performed, that permit a qualified disabled individual to perform the essential functions of that job.
  • changes that allow a disabled employee to take advantage of all of the benefits and privileges of employment in the same way that all non-disabled employees do.

The term “reasonable” refers to the change being “feasible” or “plausible.”  The only exception to an employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation is if it would cause “undue hardship” to the employer.  Undue hardship means that an employer would face great difficulty or expense to make the accommodation because they lack the resources or ability to provide the requested accommodation.  Undue hardship also refers to reasonable accommodations that are so extensive, substantial, or disruptive, that they would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business.

Keep in mind that in spite of the undue hardship clause, there are still a number of reasonable accommodations that do change operations, on some level, that the employer is required to make.  The majority of them have to do with job performance:

  • Job Restructuring – While an employer never has to reassign essential functions of a job in order to accommodate a disabled employee, they are required to reassign secondary job functions that an employee is unable to perform because of a disability.  They must also change when and how any function is performed, whether it is essential or secondary, to accommodate a disabled employee.

By the same token, if an employer restructures a job to eliminate some secondary functions, the employer can require the disabled employee to assume other secondary functions that they can perform.

  • Leave – Allowing the disabled employee to use accrued paid leave or unpaid leave when it is necessary because of their disability is another reasonable accommodation.  An employer does not have to provide paid leave beyond that which they normally provide to employees.  Employers can allow a disabled employee to use all of their accrued paid leave before providing unpaid leave.
  • Modified Scheduling – This includes changing arrival or departure times, providing periodic breaks, and changing the time certain functions are performed.  An employer must provide a modified schedule for a disabled employee, even if  they don’t provide such schedules for other employees unless it represents an undue hardship.
  • Modifying Personnel Policies – It would be a reasonable accommodation to modify a policy requiring employees to schedule vacation time in advance if a disabled employee needed to use accrued vacation time immediately because of disability- related medical problems, unless it presents an undue hardship.  In addition, an employer may be required to provide additional leave to an employee with a disability in spite of their leave policy, unless it presents an undue hardship.
  • Reassignment – Reassignment to a vacant position for which the disabled employee is qualified is also considered a reasonable accommodation.  This must be provided to an employee whose disability makes it impossible for them to continue to perform the functions of their current position.  The only exception is if the employer can prove that it would cause an undue hardship. 

Hurricane Preparedness Best Practices

It’s only May, and the southeastern United States has
already experienced two named storms.

Hurricanes are destructive and potentially deadly storms
that can cause a tremendous amount of property damage and, occasionally, people’s
lives. Longtime residents of coastal Florida, the Carolinas, Texas,
Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are familiar with the drill – but there are
always new people and always procrastinators every year. Hurricane preparedness
takes time! Don’t leave it to the last minute. Here are some things to keep in

Hurricane season is normally June through November. But that
doesn’t mean the occasional storm can’t come early or late. Don’t get

  • Maintain situational awareness. Keep an eye and
    ear on national and local media, and monitor developing weather systems.
  • Track the projected path of storms, using
    websites like National Hurricane Center (www.nhc.noaa.gov).
  • Do a risk assessment for your home. Assess
    vulnerability to storm surge, wind damage, and flooding. A Category 5 hurricane
    could result in storm surge of 30 feet above ground level in some areas. You
    can find a storm surge risk map at https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/surge/risk/.
  • Plan on at least a three-day wait before substantial
    government assistance is in place. FEMA can’t put its trucks and trailers in
    the direct path of the storm. It takes at least three days for state and FEMA
    resources to be put in place.
  • Cut down large trees overhanging your house
    and garage. The tree could fall, taking out part of your house.
  • Expect a run on hurricane supplies in the last
    48 hours before the storm. Buy your batteries, bottled water, fuel cans,
    generators and other supplies before you need them.
  • Invest in hardened windows, shutters and doors.
  • Failing that, buy your plywood well ahead of
    time, along with a drill and screws to board up your windows.
  • Obey evacuation orders. If you receive an
    evacuation order, you are getting it because the authorities know they will not
    be able to reach you in an emergency. Many people in coastal communities are
    killed by hurricanes – or vanish forever – when they ignore orders to evacuate.
  • Keep your homeowners or renters coverage updated
    with the current replacement value of your home and belongings.
  • Inventory your belongings. You can use sites like:
    Lockboxer.com, Knowyourstuff.org (a creation of the Insurance Information
    Institute) and Stuffsafe.com. These
    resources are free or very low cost, and will facilitate compensation from your
    insurance company if your home is damaged or destroyed by a weather event.
  • Fill your gas tank. Many times, gas stations
    run out of fuel in the day or so before a storm. If you can’t fuel your
    vehicle, you can’t evacuate. And you may not be able to function.
  • Get a battery-operated radio. Don’t
    count on cell phones working for a number of days after a storm.
  • You may be without power for as long as two
    weeks and sometimes longer. Keep nonperishables, batteries and flashlights.
  • Keep your generator outdoors. Every year, people
    die from carbon monoxide poisoning because they moved their generator indoors
    to protect it from theft.
  • Understand your generator’s capacity. Generators
    have a limited load. This is especially important to know when you start up
    electrical items connected to the generator, because startups cause a spike in
    electrical demand.
  • Know your neighbors. Your neighbors may have a
    harder time preparing or evacuating from storms than you do, because of
    frailty, disability, young children, poverty or lack of reliable
  • Look out for family members of emergency
    responders. Police, fire department, National Guard members and medical
    personnel often have to concentrate on preparing for the mission, and have less
    time to attend to their own homes and families.
  • Know your community emergency management contacts.
    You can find an online listing at https://www.ready.gov/community-state-info
  • Don’t underestimate tropical storms. Just
    because it’s not a hurricane doesn’t mean it can’t do a lot of damage locally.
    Tropical storms can dump as much rain as a hurricane.

By understanding these guidelines, you can be an asset to
your community in the event of a hurricane, instead of a drain on emergency
resources. You will also have an easier time getting reimbursed by your
insurance company for any damage done, and be doing your part to keep overall
hurricane insurance premiums down.