Employers Can Deny Disability Accommodations if They Can Prove Undue Hardship


In California, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for applicants or employees with physical or mental disabilities.[1] However, an employer does not have to provide accommodations if those accommodations create an “undue hardship” for the employer.[2] California law defines undue hardship as an “action requiring significant difficulty or expense.”[3]

When deciding whether a potential accommodation would create an undue hardship for the employer, courts consider the five factors laid out in the Fair Employment and Housing Act:

(1) The nature and cost of the accommodation;
(2) The finances of the facilities involved in the potential accommodation, the number of employees at the facility, and the impact of the potential accommodation on the facility;
(3) The overall finances of the employer, the overall number of employees, and various factors regarding its facilities;
(4) The employer’s operations; and
(5) The location of and relationship between facilities.[4]

In Atkins v. City of Los Angeles, the Second District Court of Appeal held that the City of Los Angeles failed to demonstrate that reassigning five injured recruit police officers to light-duty administrative work would cause the city undue hardship.[5] The city argued that keeping recruits on light-duty would have caused undue hardship because the recruits doing light-duty work were holding onto salaried positions that were intended for officers that would go out on the street within six months of entering the police academy.

The Atkins court was unpersuaded because the city did not offer any evidence to show that the expense of hiring additional recruits would have been “too great in relation to the city’s financial health” or that the city could not have met its public safety needs if plaintiffs remained in the light-duty program or if the city could not have hired additional recruits.[6] The court clarified that the employer must do more than simply assert it has economic reasons to reject a plaintiff’s proposed reassignment to demonstrate undue hardship. The employer must also show why and how those economic reasons would affect its ability to provide a particular accommodation.[7]

There is no single formula for determining whether a requested accommodation will result in undue hardship. Whether a particular accommodation will create an undue hardship for an employer is determined on a case-by-case basis and is “a multi-faceted, fact-intensive inquiry.”[8] Ultimately, the employer has the burden of demonstrating that an otherwise reasonable accommodation would result in an undue hardship on the employer.[9]

If you have questions about your disability rights in the workplace in California, please feel free to contact the experienced attorneys at Hunter Pyle Law for a free and confidential initial intake. We can be reached at inquire@hunterpylelaw.com or at (510) 444-4400.


[1] Gov. Code § 12940, subd. (m)(1).

[2] Gov. Code § 12940, subd. (m)(1).

[3] Gov. Code §12926, subd. (u).

[4] Gov. Code §12926, subd. (u).

[5] Atkins v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 8 Cal.App.5th 696, 732, as modified on denial of reh’g (Mar. 13, 2017). 

[6] Id. at 735.

[7] Id. at 734.

[8] Id. at 733.

[9] Id., citing Wallace v. County of Stanislaus (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 109, 126–127; Hastings v. Department of Corrections (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 963, 972.