When Are Reasonable Accommodations NOT Required For a Disabled Employee?

Sometimes, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee. The most notable exception to the rule is when the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the employer. But there are other circumstances when accommodations are not required, too.

For example, in Morse v. Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator, Inc., the court addressed the issue of whether an employer failed to accommodate an employee who had Asperger’s Syndrome. 2013 WL 6502173 (D. Minn. 2013). Initially, the court questioned whether the employee qualified as “disabled” for purpose of the ADA because there was no evidence that the plaintiff “was substantially or materially limited in performing any major life activity on account of his Asperger’s syndrome, and [the plaintiff] himself testified that he did not regard his condition as severe.”

Even assuming the plaintiff’s Asperger’s Syndrome qualified as a disability, however, the court held that the employer was not required to provide any reasonable accommodation to the employee. The court explained that an employer “need not accommodate a disability that is irrelevant to an employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of [his] job — not because such an accommodation might be unreasonable, but because the employee is fully qualified for the job without accommodation and therefore is not entitled to an accommodation in the first place.” Because the evidence showed that the plaintiff’s job performance was “excellent,” and because there was no other evidence that the employee’s disability interfered with his essential job functions, the court held that the ADA did not require the employer to provide a reasonable accommodation.

The Morse case is a good reminder that reasonable accommodations under the ADA are only required when they serve certain purposes. In general, the four primary reasons that an accommodation may be required under the ADA are:

  1. To “enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires;”
  2. To “enable an individual with a disability who is qualified to perform the essential functions of that position;”
  3. To enable an “employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities;” and
  4. To make “existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.”

See29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o). If a requested accommodation does not serve any of these purposes, the accommodation may not be required by the ADA.

Takeaway: When responding to a request for accommodation under the ADA, employers should consider not only whether the accommodation imposes an undue hardship, but also whether the accommodation serves one of the purposes identified by the ADA.