Reasonable accommodation / Workplace adjustment

Understanding reasonable accommodation today

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability (UN CRPD) defines reasonable accommodation as
“[N]ecessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with a disability the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

A little bit of history

The legal concept of reasonable accommodation is rooted in US law (1960s) and Canadian law (1980s). It was introduced in North America with respect to religious beliefs by prohibiting discrimination in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  This definition stands in contrast with the definition provided in the 1990s Americans with Disabilities Act. Reasonable accommodation is described as being necessary unless there is “undue hardship” in implementing it, considered to be “action requiring significant difficulty or expense”.

Why thinking about reasonable accommodation is important

  • Because of obligation by national law in an increasing number of countries and o anticipate and comply with existing or future legal obligations 
  • It is a key measure to promote diversity in the workplace 
Important note: legislation on reasonable accommodation is different in each country. 

Analysing reasonable accommodation

The concept of “reasonable” accommodation can be divided into two main parts:
  • identifying effective measures that remove or mitigate barriers encountered by the worker
  • assessing the reasonableness of that accommodation 

If a person with a disability wishes to make use of reasonable accommodation, the employer needs to assess the reasonableness of the accommodation requested. Below you can find a list with factors that are taken into account in determining whether a requested accommodation would pose a disproportionate burden:

  • the cost of the accommodation;
  • the size and economic turnover of the enterprise obliged to provide the accommodation. If it is part of a larger company, the size of the entire company should be the reference;
  • the functioning and the organization of the company;
  • whether the accommodation will benefit more persons than the individual making the request;
  • the existence of public (or other) funding, which could cover or reimburse the employer for the partial or total cost of the accommodation;
  • occupational safety and health requirements; 
  • the anticipated duration of the employment relationship. If the worker has been hired on a short, temporary contract, then the employer might not be expected to invest in major changes unless these would be of wider benefit to other workers.