Most people are familiar with an employer’s duty under the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide a qualified worker with a reasonable accommodation so that they are able to perform the essential job functions of their position. Yet, not as many people are aware that Title VII’s bar on religious discrimination also allows an employee to seek an accommodation for the their religious beliefs. While these two statutes allow for a reasonable accommodation, each have their own distinct requirements and burdens placed on both the employer and employee. In this article I will discuss some of the starkest differences and similarities between the ADA’s and Title VII’s requirements imposed on employers to provide a reasonable accommodation.
Under the ADA an employee must generally inform their employer that they require a change in their current working condition due to a medical reason. This is what is called a request for a reasonable accommodation, and it is considered protected activity under the law. It is imperative to note that in making this request an employee is under no obligation to use any sort of magic words or even invoke the ADA. All that is required is that the employee inform the employer that they need a change in the current working conditions (i.e. schedule, workload, time off, light duty) and that it relates to a medical condition. Moreover, there is no requirement that such a request be made in writing. At that point, the employer must engage in an interactive process to determine if such a request is feasible and work collaboratively with an employee to reach a mutually agreeable accommodation if one is available. This can entail requesting reasonable documentation from a healthcare professional to verify the medical condition if is not readily apparent and what accommodations they deem necessary.
The biggest statutory hurdle on a request for an accommodation under the ADA is if the accommodation sought would create an undue hardship on the employer. The EEOC defines undue hardship as something that would cause significant difficulty or expense and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. The burden is on the employer to show that the sought-after accommodation would cause an undue burden. If an employer can prove that providing a particular accommodation would cause an undue hardship, then it is not obligated under the law to provide such an accommodation. Conversely, if it cannot, then generally speaking it must provide it.
As mentioned above, Title VII imposes an obligation on an employer that it must provide individuals a religious accommodation so that the employee be allowed to observe their religious beliefs. For the most part, the requirements mirror that of the ADA’s requirement for a reasonable accommodation with regards to how it is sought. In other words, the employee must express that they need a change in the working conditions to accommodate a particular religious belief. Yet it is vastly different in one important regard.
While the ADA requires an employer to show that an accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense, religious accommodations cannot impose more than a “de minimis” cost on employers. This simple difference may make it substantially more difficult for employees to get reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs since the burden that an employer must show is lower than that of an ADA related reasonable accommodation.
In short, requesting a reasonable accommodation under either the ADA or Title VII can be a difficult thing. While this shouldn’t be the case, unfortunately in many instances it is. This is of course not considering the many instances that employees are retaliated against for their engagement in this protected activity – exercising their rights under the ADA and Title VII. That is why it is it is imperative to seek out an attorney that specializes in employment law so that you can get the information you need regarding your requests for reasonable accommodations. At Wiley Walsh, P.C., we can fight on your behalf with the legal expertise that these types of cases demand. If you need an accommodation or feel like you have been retaliated against for requesting one, feel free to contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.