The definition of accommodation is varied. According to my online dictionary it means:
- The act of accommodating; the state or process of being accommodated; adaptation.
- Adjustment of differences; reconciliation.
- A process of mutual adaptation between persons or social groups, usu. achieved by eliminating or reducing hostility.
- Anything that supplies a need, want, convenience, etc.
From the point of view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission an accommodation probably incorporates all of these aspects. Why is accommodation important?
The simple answer
The simple answer to this question is that accommodation, or at least an attempt at accommodation, is required by law for companies of 15 or more employees. The major law that requires accommodation is the Americans’ with Disabilities Act. The ADA and the ADAAA require that employers engage in an interactive discussion with anyone who is in need of a reasonable accommodation in order to allow them to do the job despite their disability. My friend Jon Hyman, attorney and blogger extraordinaire, points out “The ADA imposes on employers an absolute duty to determine whether or not they can accommodate an employee’s disability. Absent that consideration, the law has been violated.” This also applies to potential employees.
This is what the interactive discussion is all about. You have to be making a valid attempt to determine if that employee or candidate can validly perform the job, even with a reasonable accommodation. You have to be interactive, that means having a discussion with them, preferably documented. As Jon says “Moreover, after engaging in that interactive process, the employer can only deny the request: 1) if it poses an undue hardship, or 2) if the employee cannot perform the essential functions of the job with or without the accommodation.”
The ADA, however, is not the only area that requires accommodation. Religion also requires accommodation. The EEOC specifically says “The law requires an employer or other covered entity to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause more than a minimal burden on the operations of the employer’s business. This means an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to the work environment that will allow an employee to practice his or her religion.” This may mean a varied work schedule, an exception to a dress code or a break schedule that allows time for prayer.
Pregnancy also has an accommodation, typically related to the ADA. The EEOC says “An employer may have to provide a reasonable accommodation (such as leave or modifications that enable an employee to perform her job) for a disability related to pregnancy, absent undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense). “ In addition the requirement for pregnancy is that it be treated the same as any other temporary disability. If you make accommodations for others that have heart conditions, cancer, a broken leg, or whatever you must provide similar accommodations.
What do you do if you have fewer than 15 employees? Do you have to provide any accommodation? Not by Federal law, but should you? My answer is “Yes”. To me providing an accommodation is the right thing to do. How you treat your employees has an effect greater than just that single employee. All the rest of your employees watch what you do and you measure the company by your response. If loyalty and employee retention is not important to you then ignore my advice. However, there is a cost to you and your company greater than the money involved with making an accommodation. As an old commercial used to say “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”
Thanks to Jon Hyman of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog for inspiration for this post. He is an excellent read and I highly recommend him.