What is an Undue Hardship?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Undue hardship is a concept in the law which revolves around the idea that if meeting a legal obligation would constitute an unreasonable or insurmountable hardship, someone will be exempted from that obligation. An example of undue hardship might be seen in an applicant for student loan forgiveness. If someone could show no documented income and no hope of documenting income in the future, as for example in the case of someone with a permanent disability, it could be argued that repayment requirements constitute an undue hardship and the person's loans should be forgiven.

Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations to perform their job.
Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations to perform their job.

There are a number of settings in which the concept of undue hardship can arise. One of the most classic environments is the workplace. In many nations, employers are required by law to furnish disabled employees with reasonable accommodations which they need to get their work done. For example, a hard of hearing employee would be entitled to a special phone so that she or he could conduct business. Likewise, a business which hires an employee who experiences migraines under fluorescent lights would need to make alternate lighting arrangements.

Jurors may be excused from jury duty due to an undue hardship.
Jurors may be excused from jury duty due to an undue hardship.

Some businesses may deny accommodations on the grounds that they are an undue hardship. There are two tests which can be used to determine whether or not an accommodation really represents an excessive hardship. The first is expense, considered as part of the overall operating costs of a company. The majority of accommodations needed are so inexpensive that this argument is usually not effective. The second argument which can be used is a demonstration that the accommodation would change the fundamental nature of the business, thus constituting an unreasonable difficulty.

Someone who experiences frequent, chronic migraines may qualify as having an undue hardship.
Someone who experiences frequent, chronic migraines may qualify as having an undue hardship.

Accommodations extend not just to the workplace, but also to the application process. People with disabilities have historically faced a variety of workplace discrimination and as a result there are a number of laws in place which are designed to provide them with a protected status in the workplace. If an employer denies accommodation on the grounds of undue hardship and this claim can be disproved, the employer will be forced to provide the accommodation by law. However, it should be noted that the employee would need to take the case to court in order to do this and many people cannot afford the expenses of trying a case.

This legal concept also comes up in other situations where people have a legal obligation which they cannot meet as a result of undue hardship. Care is taken when excusing people from obligations to ensure that the hardship is genuine and to confirm that the person did not take on the obligation with the knowledge that hardship would be an issue.

In many cases, very few accommodations are required to meet the needs of an employee who uses a wheelchair.
In many cases, very few accommodations are required to meet the needs of an employee who uses a wheelchair.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

Glasis

Undue hardship can be used to be excused from jury duty, but is usually decided on a case-by-case basis by the court or judge in question.

Basically, there is no guarantee that claiming financial hardship will get you out of jury duty. Also, in many jurisdictions, a court will excuse you once or twice from jury duty service, but will eventually require you to appear.

It is very difficult to use the same reasoning to be excused more than once from jury duty, as financial situations can change.

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