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.
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.
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.
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.