What is a ‘Reasonable Accommodation’?

What is a ‘Reasonable Accommodation’?

Physical requirements are almost absolutely essential in some employment situations. For example, postal letter carriers must be able to walk most of the day and warehouse workers must be able to lift heavy packages. There may be some workarounds available, but they are few and far between.

Thankfully, that is not the case across all industries. Most jobs require experience in a certain line of work or certain mental skills. Physical ability is not really an issue, especially because of the reasonable accommodation provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to disabled employees unless the accommodation would be an undue hardship. What exactly do all these terms mean?


In this context, “disability” is not limited to blindness, paraplegia, and other such conditions. Sometimes, the law refers to these individuals as “seriously disabled.” These cases are a little harder to win. Given the extreme nature of these disabilities, it is somewhat easier for the employer to establish the undue hardship defense, as outlined below.

Physical disabilities come in different degrees. A good example is an office worker who cannot see a computer screen clearly, but she meets or exceeds all other job qualifications. Indeed, most ADA cases fall into this category. Many people just need a little assistance and then they will be excellent employees. The ADA gives these individuals a chance and places them on a level playing field with everyone else.

Not all disabilities are physical and genetic. Depression and other mental illnesses are quite real, quite serious, and quite common. Furthermore, some disabilities are within the individual’s control, at least to a limited extent. Some obesity cases or substance abuse issues fall into this category. Such matters are difficult to litigate because the line between “disability” and “self-inflicted condition” is very blurry.

Reasonable Accommodation

Looking at its ordinary meaning, this phrase implies a give-and-take exchange between employer and employee. For example, assume Wendy Worker has a bad back and needs a special chair. She asks for a $200 office chair; her employer wants to buy a cheap Office Depot chair and put a throw pillow on its back. If it were not for the ADA, Wendy might have to settle for a $100 chair that does not fully meet all her needs.

However, under federal law, if she has a documented medical need, Wendy is probably entitled to the $200 chair. If her doctor includes a note in her records detailing her disability and her needs, that is even better.

A flexible schedule is another common reasonable accommodation. Illinois courts usually frown on full-time telecommuting requests, but they are generally amenable to things like part-time schedules or additional days off.

Undue Hardship

This determination is not entirely subjective. Instead, there are some factors to consider when making this determination, including:

  • Cost: Employers must consider the potential cost as opposed to the actual cost. For example, a state or other disability agency might cover part of Wendy’s $200 chair.
  • Size: The size of the location is not the only consideration. Some small offices are part of larger companies. So, the overall size is an important factor.

Customer fears or preferences do not usually enter the equation. However, the employer can consider the request’s effect on worker morale and the overall employment atmosphere.

Reach Out to a Dedicated Lawyer

“Reasonable accommodations” has a very broad meaning under the ADA. For a free consultation with an experienced employment law attorney in Chicago, contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline. We routinely handle cases in Cook County and nearby jurisdictions.