What Is Reasonable Accommodation?

An employer has a duty to provide a reasonable accommodation that is effective to remove any workplace barriers. An accommodation is effective if it will provide an individual with a disability with an equal employment opportunity to participate in the application process, attain the same level of performance as co-workers in the same position, and enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment available to all employees. However, a employer is not required to provide accommodations that would result in an undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense).Where two or more suggested accommodations are effective, primary consideration should be given to the individual’s preference, but the employer may choose the easier or less expensive one to provide.

Reasonable accommodation also includes those accommodations that are necessary to provide an employee with a hearing loss equal access to information communicated in the workplace, the opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored events (e.g., training, meetings, social events, award ceremonies), and the opportunity for professional advancement.

Reasonable accommodation does not require an employer to remove an essential job function (i.e., a fundamental job duty), lower production standards, or excuse violations of conduct rules that are job-related. Additionally, employers are not required to provide employees with personal use items, such as hearing aids or similar devices that are needed both on and off the job.

Even if a particular accommodation would result in undue hardship, however, an employer should not assume that no accommodation is available. He or she must consider whether there is another accommodation that could be provided without undue hardship.If an employer determines that the cost of a reasonable accommodation would cause an undue hardship, he or she should consider whether some or all of the accommodation’s cost can be offset. For example, in some instances, state vocational rehabilitation agencies or disability organizations may be able to provide accommodations at little or no cost to the employer. There are also federal tax credits and deductions to help offset the cost of accommodations,and some states may offer similar incentives.

When an employee requests a reasonable accommodation for a hearing disability and the disability and/or need for accommodation is not obvious, an employer may ask for reasonable documentation showing that the condition is a disability and/or that accommodation is needed.

Source: Questions and Answers about Deafness and Hearing Impairments in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,  http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/qa_deafness.cfm