How far do we have to go to accommodate someone?

This is a question that can perplex employers. Accommodation is often confused with discrimination, and employers are left asking that if they simply don’t discriminate and treat everyone equally, will that count as accommodation? The answer is no – the law requires employers to accommodate to the point of what is called ‘undue hardship.’ 

Undue hardship is actually a fairly high threshold to meet, and this means that accommodation may not be easy or cheap in all cases (although it is often both). It means that some “hardship” is expected.

Granted this may look different on the ground depending on the size and nature of the employer. Large companies may have resources readily available to offer, such as for candidates who are hearing or visually impaired. For a small business, these sorts of resources may not be handy, but other reasonable accommodations may be available, such as allowing an interpreter to attend the interview, or conducting the interview over Zoom to accommodate a candidate with a mobility disability.

The standard of ‘undue hardship’ is applicable for both applicants and employees. If an employee is the lone caregiver for an elderly parent, for example, and they need to take their parent to a series of medical appointments, employers will be required to accommodate this in scheduling, even if it does create a headache. Similarly if an employee is hearing impaired, then the employer may be required to make some physical modifications to their workspace, such as supplying that employee with a special telephone system, or installing a visual fire alarm in the premises. There are several helpful guides available for how to implement these accommodations. Learn more about an employer’s duty here. 

While some accommodations may come at an expense, an employer is also not required to put themselves into financial peril from doing so. A small business with two storeys for example may simply not have the budget to install an elevator to accommodate someone who uses a wheelchair. An employer is also not required to make accommodations that may jeopardize the health and safety of other employees. If you are concerned that accommodation will cause undue hardship, speak with an employment lawyer to discuss your options.