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Employment Blog

Reasonable Accommodation - The Most Difficult Employer Decision

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on February 21, 2013
Filed under Employment

Deciding what is the best and most appropriate reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability, is the most difficult judgment call that an employer has to make. Deciding how far to go when accommodating an employee with a disability is a matter of great concern to employers, but very little specific guidance is offered by the courts.

Several recent decisions at the federal court level have held that an employer is not obligated to make accommodations for an employee, that results in the employee not having to perform some of the essential functions of the position. Defining what are the essential functions of a position can be tricky, but is also based upon known facts and a review of a position description while tying it to the actual work performed by an employee in the position. Decisions by the federal courts under the ADAAA have clarified that an employee who is not able to perform the essential functions of the job, is not entitled to an accommodation that eliminates some of those essential functions from the work that the employee would be required to perform.

This type of question of what is a reasonable accommodation, is even more difficult for Wisconsin employers. Court decisions in Wisconsin have not held to the strict standard that essential functions may not be transferred away from an employee's work assignment. Wisconsin Courts apply the "hardship" test, and will look on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it would be an undue hardship for the employer to transfer work away from an employee that suffers from a disability. There are no rigid guidelines for an employer to follow but rather each employer must assess whether the accommodations being requested by the employee will constitute a hardship for the Company.

We are detecting some shift to make it clearer that essential functions of a job must be performed by the employee with a disability but the Wisconsin courts have by no means made a blanket statement to that effect. We continue to monitor these court decisions to help provide guidance to employers in this difficult area.