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Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship: A Delicate Balance

December 12, 2011

By Stephen P. Sonnenberg and Todd C. Duffield

There is no let-up in sight for workplace disability discrimination claims. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that during 2010 it received the greatest number of discrimination charges under the Americans with Disabilities Act in 14 years, and many observers believe the trend has continued, if not accelerated, during 2011. More than twenty-five percent of all charges filed with the Commission last year alleged physical or mental disability discrimination. In 2011 the long awaited EEOC final regulations regarding the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) heightened awareness of available protections under not only federal law but the New York State and City Human Rights Laws. In celebration of National Employee Disability Awareness Month (October), the EEOC proudly notes on its web-site that it has filed nearly 60 lawsuits under the ADAAA, underscoring its commitment to vigorous enforcement of the law.

It is axiomatic that, twenty-one years after the enactment of the ADA, accommodations for employees with disabilities must be reasonable and must not cause their employers undue hardship. The meaning and application of those terms, however, is far from clear, despite decades of guidance from courts and the Commission. Disputes and litigation over accommodation requests are frequent and a source of frustration for employees and employers alike. Two types of accommodation requests are perennial flashpoints: leaves of absence and work-at-home (telecommuting).