What is reasonable accommodation and what does it require of an employer?
Reasonable accommodation is not straightforward, either as a concept or how it is dealt with in the Act. Reasonable accommodation is used to describe the creation of an environment that is intended to ensure equality of opportunity to meet:
Reasonable accommodation can entail modifications or adjustments which will, for example, allow a job applicant with a disability to participate more equally in a workplace. It can involve physical adjustments such as ensuring access to a building or modifying the way a job is done, for example allocating aspects of the job to another employee.
The Act creates a clear obligation in relation to meeting the particular practices of an employee’s religious or ethical beliefs. An employer is obliged to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs provided that does not unreasonably disrupt the employer’s activities.
The Act does not require changes that would unreasonably disrupt an employer’s activities. The Act provides a number of defences but before an employer can rely upon them the employer needs to genuinely consider whether the job could be adjusted by assigning those aspects of it that the job applicant is unable to do to another employee.
There is no case law in New Zealand on what is an unreasonable disruption. It is, however, likely that what is reasonable will depend on the circumstances, taking into account factors such as:
Does reasonable accommodation mean an employer has to spend money adapting equipment or the workplace?
The short answer is ‘no’. However, as many adjustments are minor and involve minimal outlay, in the interests of equal employment opportunities and in attracting quality candidates, employers should try and accommodate a job applicant’s needs.
Three training and employment support funds are available for people with disabilities in New Zealand. They are Training Support, Job Support, and Self Start. Each fund has set targets to assist people who have higher support needs. There is a focus on ensuring that the funds are used to cover the applicant’s cost of disability. The funds encourage people with disabilities into mainstream employment.
More information about the funds is available from Workbridge: http://www.workbridge.co.nz/support-funds/index.shtml