Given all the emphasis on employees’ rights under various laws, employers are sometimes confused about their own rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a perfect example. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities in order to enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. When an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation, the employer is supposed to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee about their work-related limitations and needs.
This can be a confusing process and a challenging one, particularly if an employee is insisting on a particular accommodation. The good news for employers is that the employee is not always entitled to get what he wants – you actually get to choose the reasonable accommodation and it doesn’t have to be the best accommodation available, as long as it’s effective for the employee. This point was recently reiterated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in an informal discussion letter addressing reasonable accommodations for hearing-impaired individuals.
In the letter, the EEOC addressed the issue of an employer’s rights when faced with multiple possible accommodations. The EEOC emphasized the importance of the interactive process in discussing possible accommodations with the employee or applicant, both for the initial selection of an accommodation and in re-assessing the situation if a change in accommodation is later requested by the employee. Where there is more than one available accommodation, the EEOC stated that, while the preferred accommodation of the employee or applicant “should be given primary consideration,” the employer may choose an easier or less expensive accommodation as long as it is effective. According to the EEOC, effectiveness, and not the employee’s personal preference, is the relevant consideration in selecting a reasonable accommodation.
So, the bottom line for employers is that, while you have to provide a reasonable accommodation, you don’t have to agree to the employee’s choice of accommodation if there is another one that is cheaper, easier to provide, and better suits your business needs. But, of course, if the cost and ease of the accommodation choices are the same, you should defer to the employee’s preference.