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Pricey Accommodations Can Pose ‘Hardship’ in Pandemic; EEOC (1)

April 17, 2020, 4:29 PMUpdated: April 17, 2020, 7:04 PM

Employers may deny a worker’s requested accommodation under federal disability law if that request poses an undue financial hardship under the circumstances of a pandemic, the EEOC said in updated guidance.

An undue hardship could mean “significant difficulty or expense,” the agency said, meaning an accommodation requested under the Americans with Disabilities Act that was deemed reasonable before the pandemic may no longer be reasonable now.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission answered this question and others Friday in its regularly updated online coronavirus resource. Businesses and workers have been seeking answers from the agency about how to comply with established workplace laws while remaining safe, and limiting the transmission of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. This is at least the third time the agency has provided updated guidance for businesses and workers.

Most accommodations before the pandemic didn’t impose a significant cost on employers, the agency said, but financial hardship during this time should be taken into consideration if they’re relevant in a given situation.

“These considerations do not mean that an employer can reject any accommodation that costs money; an employer must weigh the cost of an accommodation against its current budget while taking into account constraints created by this pandemic,” the agency said in the updated guidance. “For example, even under current circumstances, there may be many no-cost or very low-cost accommodations.”

The EEOC also clarified that if an urgent accommodation is requested, an employer can shorten or forgo the required conversations under the ADA to grant the request on an expedited schedule. Businesses also might want to devise end dates for that temporary accommodation if it’s granted, the EEOC said.

Answers to return-to-work questions appeared on the guidance webpage for the first time. The EEOC told employers that if they’re requiring personal protective equipment for those coming back to work, they might have to take into account religious accommodations under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, or accommodations under the ADA. For example, a worker could request non-latex gloves, or “modified equipment due to religious garb.”

(Updated to reflect additional reporting.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at psmith@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com