Affecting those covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently announced that a report by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) found that nearly half of all ADA accommodations can be implemented at no cost to employers. Meanwhile, out of those reasonable accommodations that incur some cost, the median expenditure decreased compared to previous reports. The report found that such ADA accommodations cost employers more or less $300. The DOL’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continues to enforce federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. The agency has focused on enforcement and education efforts for employers to understand their obligations under the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII). Earlier this year, the EEOC released updated guidance on accommodations for deaf people.
Employer Duty to Provide ADA Accommodations
Discrimination laws cover virtually all employers. Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the ADA and any applicable state or local laws. Meanwhile, some state or local laws cover those with less than 15 employees. An ADA accommodation is a modification to a process, job role, or work environment to help an individual with a physical or mental impairment perform the essential functions of a job. All businesses subject to state, federal, or local laws regarding disability discrimination must comply with their legal duty to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability upon request, barring undue hardship to the business. However, undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances. Note that an employer may not refuse to provide reasonable accommodations just because it involves some cost. In fact, generalized conclusions do not suffice to support a claim of undue hardship. Factors in determining undue hardship include:
- Nature and cost of the accommodation;
- Financial resources of the facility fulfilling the reasonable accommodation request;
- Its effect on expenses and resources of the facility; and
- The overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer (if the facility is part of a larger entity)
Report on ADA Accommodations
The JAN report, “Accommodation and Compliance: Low Cost, High Impact,” was based on survey data, including cost information, collected from employers between 2019 and 2022. Of the 720 employers that provided cost information related to ADA accommodations, 356 (or 49.4%) stated that effective reasonable accommodations cost them nothing. Of those accommodations with a one-time cost, the median single expenditure was $300. Finally, those ADA accommodations requiring ongoing costs had a median annual cost of $3,750.
Additionally, the report collected employers’ most cited reasons for making ADA accommodations and how effective they were. The report found that:
- More than half of employers made the accommodations to retain a valued employee.
- 68.4% stated that the accommodations were very to extremely effective
- The direct and indirect benefits of the accommodations included retaining valuable employees (85%), improving productivity (53%), increasing morale (30%), reducing workers’ compensation costs (23%), and increasing diversity (33%).
According to the report, post-COVID employers are showing increasing interest in finding ways to retain valuable employees and better understanding the costs of providing ADA accommodations. In the end, surveyed employers admitted that benefits from making reasonable accommodations far outweighed their associated costs.