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How companies can show that accommodations aren’t reasonable

On Behalf of | May 1, 2023 | Employer Defense

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) established protections for workers with disabling medical conditions at the federal level, and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) expanded and reinforced those rights for individuals in California.

Both employers and landlords have special obligations under FEHA, and those that do not fulfill those obligations could face legal action filed by people who allege that their rights have been violated. One of the most common reasons that workers file disability discrimination claims against their employers is that the companies in question chose not to accommodate their medical conditions.

Both the ADA and FEHA require reasonable accommodations, and FEHA imposes that burden on much smaller businesses than the ADA. Its obligations apply to companies with just five full-time workers. Small businesses in particular may find some accommodation requests to be too great a burden for a company to bear. These are some of the ways that a business could prove that it was appropriate to deny a request from a worker because the accommodation was not “reasonable” as defined by state and federal law.

Document the prohibitive cost of the proposed accommodation

The more expensive an accommodation is and the more ongoing investment it requires, the better the chances that a business could develop a defense against claims that it discriminated against the worker by refusing to provide those accommodations. Certain forms of assistive technology could cost thousands of dollars and require regular maintenance and adjustments, for example.

Other times, a request for a worker to completely alter their job responsibilities to something that presents no physical demands on them may be unreasonable because the company does not have enough work of that type to offer. One possible defense to claims of discrimination will involve proving that the accommodation was unreasonable given the scope of the business or the nature of its operations.

Push back on the necessity of the accommodation

A worker may have come in making a request for special treatment because they read online that they have the right to do so. However, if they failed to present actual medical documentation affirming their diagnosis and the need for specific accommodations, then they may not have any justification to claim discrimination. Reasonable accommodations must be medically necessary, which means that there should be paperwork affirming that a medical practitioner believes the accommodations are necessary to allow someone to continue working.

There are other defense strategies that employers facing potentially expensive and reputation-damaging disability discrimination lawsuits may be able to employ. Reviewing the allegations made by a worker and the medical paperwork they provided with the assistance of a legal professional can be an important starting point when responding to allegations of disability discrimination.