The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, applies to employers across the United States, including in Delaware, with at least 15 employees, and it prohibits employers from discriminating against disabled persons whether they are employees or prospective employees. The ADA also requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities.

Defining what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” is not always easy

Though some states provide more guidance than others as far as what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation,” the definition is vague due to its job-specific nature. A reasonable accommodation in one profession may not be reasonable in another. For instance, if an office assistant were unable to lift anything over 25 pounds, that person could most likely be accommodated as the job duties do not require much heavy lifting. However, if a furniture mover or an airport baggage handler were unable to lift the same weight, an employer could most likely succeed in arguing that the accommodation would not have been “reasonable” since lifting things over 25 pounds is an essential function of the job.

The “undue hardship” defense

If an accommodation would be too challenging for an employer to provide, an employer may be exempted from complying with the ADA’s rules regarding reasonable accommodations. “Unreasonable hardship” is also a relatively subjective determination, and not all judges reach the same findings on whether an accommodation is unduly burdensome to an employer. However, it is typically easier for smaller businesses with fewer financial resources to prove that providing an accommodation, particularly a costly one, would be an undue hardship. Larger companies are generally more likely to have the resources and means to accommodate their employees.

When to speak with an employment law attorney

This is not to say that small companies never take advantage of the “undue hardship” defense as a justification to discriminate against an employee with a disability. If you suspect that an employer is discriminating against you or failing to accommodate you on the basis of a disability, you may want to consult with an employment law attorney