Employers are required to provide a reasonable and operative accommodation for employees with a disability. The best and easiest way to reach a point of agreement on an accommodation is to engage with the employee and have an interactive dialogue. The interactive process is an effective way to find a solution to a viable accommodation that will allow the employee to perform the tasks they were hired to perform. Also, when the EEOC investigates claims of disability discrimination, they expect to see that employers have actively engaged in discussions with the employee.
How do you know if an accommodation is needed? Generally, if an employee knows they will need an accommodation to perform their job, they will ask for one. However this not always the case, particularly if an employee realizes they may need an accommodation after being on the job for a while. Employers should be able to recognize a situation where a reasonable accommodation may be necessary without the employee directly asking for it. Any reference made to difficulties in performing their job is a request for an accommodation. Several examples of indirect accommodation requests can be as simple as an employee making a statement about their chair being uncomfortable or tardiness due to medical appointments. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has other examples that can be reviewed at https://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html#requesting.
Whether an employee has requested an accommodation or there is a perception of an employee needing one, employers have 10 business days to contact the employee to discuss. Managers and supervisors should have training to be able to recognize the need for and how to handle a request for an accommodation. Once it has been determined that an accommodation is required, it’s best to have an HR representative responsible for reviewing and following through with the interactive process so it’s resolved in a timely manner.
Once you are aware that an accommodation is needed, you may need to know a little more about the disability in order to provide a solution. If the disability is a noticeable physical one, such as a person using a wheel chair, it’s easier to determine what type of accommodation might be reasonable. Purchasing a sit/stand workstation or providing a taller desk for a wheelchair to fit under is a simple and affordable solution. On the other hand, some disabilities may not be as easy to notice. If an employee has certain medical conditions that are not visible, you may have to delve a little deeper into the status of the condition.
You can ask the employee for information regarding their condition and what limitations they may have that would prevent them from performing their job duties without an accommodation. Employers just need to be careful not to ask for too much information. Asking to many questions may violate privacy rights or risk exposing confidential information. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has a medical request form that you can send with the employee, along with a copy of their job description, to their healthcare provider in order to achieve this information. You can download the medical request form at https://askjan.org/media/medical.htm.
The final stage in the interactive process is to discuss reasonable accommodations. This should be done with input from the employee, the healthcare provider, and human resources. If the employee’s healthcare provider hasn’t specified an accommodation on the medical request form, ask the employee what they feel would be reasonable. Note…this part of the process may challenge your debating skills since what the employee considers reasonable may not be what the company considers reasonable. If several options are considered, you can agree with the employee to arrange a test period for each accommodation and see which one will work best for their condition. The employee can state their accommodation preference, but taking into account the ease of implementation and cost, the employer will have the final say on which accommodation they are willing to allow.
Once an accommodation has been decided on it needs to be implemented. Decide what needs to be done in order to make the accommodation work. This may take some planning depending on who and what is involved. Remember, ADA confidentiality rules state that only those with a need-to-know should be aware of the reason behind the accommodation. Even then, the information should be limited. For instance, if the accommodation is a modified schedule, extended leave of absence, or a position change, the employee’s manager/supervisor needs to know to adjust the work schedule or move the employee to a different position, but may not need to know all the details as to why. Basic information can be explained, such as a change in shift or position is to allow the employee to make their medical appointments, but the manager does not need to know what the medical appointments are for. If the accommodation requires an outside source, such as a new chair or physical alteration of a space or product, make sure the product or alteration is ordered or changed as promptly as possible.
Continue to monitor the employee after the accommodation has been set in motion. Ask questions about how the accommodation is working for them. Was the accommodation something that requires maintenance or upgrades? If some adjustments need to be made, schedule maintenance in order to bring the accommodation up to standards and maintain its proper use. Encourage the employee to let you know if anything changes or fails with the accommodation.
For more information on reasonable accommodations, from what is required to forms, suggestions and FAQs, check out the below resources….
Make sure you document the interactive process you’ve used with the employee. This may be crucial to the company’s defense to a claim of disability discrimination. Check out JAN’s Sample Accommodation Flowchart.
Reasonable accommodations aren’t provided just for current employees. Look for our next blog about reasonable accommodations during the advertisement, applicant and interviewing process.
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