Inclusivity and diversity in the workplace is important. Not only does it provide applicants with an equal opportunity, but it provides companies with a range of perspectives and fresh ideas coming from employees that can often help to improve workflow.

However, employers may be challenged when a new employee requires some sort of workplace accommodation, particularly for a disability.

In this post, discover the basics of disability accommodation in the workplace, including what employers must do to accommodate disability and how employees with disabilities are protected from discrimination at work.

How Must Employers Accommodate Disability?

Under the Americans with Disability Act, employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities, which includes discrimination during hiring. This act guarantees everyone has equal access to employment opportunities and promotes fairness in the workplace.

It also states that employers must go above and beyond for prospective employees with disabilities and accommodate them in whatever way they can. Their duty to accommodate typically extends up until it causes undue hardship, which means an action cannot be completed due to excessive or substantial difficulty, cost, etc.

Common workplace accommodations include purchasing certain pieces of furniture, such as a desk that can adjust to the perfect height for someone in a wheelchair, or buying software, such as a screen reader for someone with a visual impairment.

In fact, as we cover in our blog about accommodating employees with disabilities, there are plenty of things you as an employer can do to adjust your workplace so it is more accessible for employees. If you still have doubts about where to start, know you can always politely ask a prospective employee what accommodations they may need when sending their Employment Offer Letter.

However, the harsh reality is that not every job can be altered to accommodate every individual’s needs, specifically in instances when a person’s ability impacts what is considered a business necessity.

What is a business necessity in disability accommodation?

A business necessity is a term used in the context of disability accommodation that refers to an aspect or condition that is required by the company to carry out business. It is often used in situations when companies need to justify why they are incapable of accommodating an employee with a disability.

For instance, a delivery driver is required to drive from location to location, picking up and dropping off food, materials, or other deliverable items. Because an employee’s ability to drive is required by the company to carry out its business, individuals who cannot drive cannot do this job, even if they were offered some form of accommodation to assist them with driving.

Extending this example to consider disability, the company would be unable to accommodate a person who cannot drive due to a disability such as visual impairment, as this person would be unable to perform a necessary aspect of the company’s business. This means the company likely wouldn’t face any repercussions when they reject this person’s job application.

Does the concept of business necessity prevent discrimination?

Yes. Though it may seem like the opposite (because employers can reject an employee on the basis of business necessity), in reality, business necessity is fundamental to preventing disability discrimination in the workplace. This is because employers are required to provide fair justification when they cannot hire and accommodate qualified individuals with disabilities.

For example, say you are employed as a full-time writer and require hip surgery. Following the surgery, you’re told you may be in a wheelchair for the better part of a year. After hearing this news, you may be concerned about job security, especially if you think your employer will decline your request for reasonable accommodation.

However, having writers stand or walk to fulfill their duties usually isn’t necessary for business, meaning accommodations can be made and employers wouldn’t be allowed to terminate someone in this circumstance.

Maintaining an Accessible Workplace

Accessible workplaces let employees know you advocate for their well-being while helping to create an inclusive, productive atmosphere.

Though accommodating employees with disabilities can be daunting if you’re unsure about what to do, learning to understand discrimination laws and the concept of business necessity will help.

Posted by Ashley Camarneiro

Ashley is an experienced researcher and writer with an interest in real estate, contract, and family law. Before starting at LawDepot in the summer of 2017, Ashley worked as a legal assistant in the corporate and family law sector.