10 Thoughts on Working through an ADA Accommodation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was originally published in 1991, with revisions and updates in the mid-2000’s.  The legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace.  This article will focus on disability and accommodation during the application and employment relationship.  How does this impact our organizations?  What should we consider if an applicant or employee requires reasonable accommodation?  The steps below will assist our organizations in working through the complexity of accommodations.

Below are the 10 thoughts on ADA accommodations:

  1. Are you covered by the ADA? All employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the ADA at the federal level.  Review state regulations and legislation, to verify if there are stricter requirements at the state or local level. 
  1. Policies and Procedures in Place: Ensure your organization has handbook language, a policy, process and/or procedures in place to work through disability accommodations. This includes reviewing job descriptions; physical, standing, sitting or lifting requirements.  The more accuracy in the job descriptions, the better we can assess accommodations and determine the reasonableness of the accommodation request.
  1. Is the applicant qualified? The individual needs to satisfy the definitions under the ADA.  Applicants must meet the skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements.  They must be able to perform the essential functions of the position.
  1. The Interactive Process: Employers should engage in the interactive process in which the employee, health care provider and employer share relevant and important information on the position, the disability, accommodations and limitations of the applicant. This should be a good faith communication process between the parties.
  1. Employee Disability Under the ADA:
  • The ADA defines a disability as one of the following: a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; b) a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity; or c) being regarded as having such an impairment.
  • According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) includes impairments that would automatically be considered disabilities. They include deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, completely or partially missing limbs, mobility impairments that require the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV or AIDS, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy, major depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.
  • The definition of major life activities includes caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. Major bodily functions include functions of the immune system; normal cell growth; and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.
  • The definition of a disability also includes situations in which an employer takes an action prohibited by the ADA based on an actual or perceived impairment—for example, removing from customer contact a bank teller who has severe facial scars because customers may feel uncomfortable working with this employee or may perceive the employee as having an impairment when, in fact, he or she does not.
  • The ADAAA directs that if a “mitigating measure,” such as medication, medical equipment, devices, prosthetic limbs or low vision devices eliminates or reduces the symptoms or impact of the impairment, that fact cannot be used in determining if a person meets the definition of having a disability. Instead, the determination of disability should focus on whether the individual would be substantially limited in performing a major life activity without the mitigating measure. This rule, however, does not apply to people who wear ordinary eye glasses or contact lenses.
  • The following are not disabilities under the ADA: transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, other sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, and psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.”[i]
  1. Reasonableness of the Accommodation: The accommodation can be a modification in the workplace. The price of reasonable accommodation will vary, case by case.  Determination of the accommodation should be an open process between the three parties and should be consistent throughout the organization with employees and applicants.
  1. Reasonable Accommodation versus Undue Hardship:
  • “The EEOC, when determining if the employee request creates an undue hardship to the employer, looks not only at the cost of the particular accommodation but also at the financial stability of a company. If the company is making significant profits or has a sizable net worth, the employer may not be able to prove that the requested accommodation would have a significant financial impact, therefore creating an undue hardship. For example, it may be an undue hardship for a nonprofit organization with limited funds to provide a special chair that costs $1,000 as an accommodation to an employee. However, the same request by an employee working in a for-profit organization that made sizable profits may not be seen as an undue hardship for that employer.
  • Accommodations that could result in an undue hardship include modifications that are “unduly extensive or disruptive, or those that would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the job or business,” according to the EEOC. For example, small employers that require their employees to be able to perform a number of different jobs and tasks may not find it feasible or cost-effective to provide job restructuring as a “reasonable accommodation,” whereas in larger organizations, this may be a free or low-cost option.
  • The EEOC does not see impact on employee morale as a reasonable undue hardship defense.”[ii]
  1. Communication is Critical: The organization should notify the employee in writing if the accommodation has been approved or denied.  Details of the anticipated accommodation start date or reason for the denial should be included.  Copies of all material should be included in the employee files.  Make copies of all information.
  1. Review, Modify and Evolve: Just as we manage PFL and FMLA claims, we need to continue to review open accommodation cases, in the event accommodation requirements change, we need to be aware of these changes. Work with the employee and health care provider to ensure the communication channels remain open.
  1. Job Accommodation Network (JAN): “The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is the leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.”[iii] This is a great resource with helpful information.  The forms, templates and accommodation recommendations are useful for all organizations.  Be proactive and strategic in your approach to accommodations.

Job Accommodation Network

Below are the links for upcoming training’s both in person and online webinars:

Upcoming Compliance Key Trainings

Elmira College: SHRM Certification Exam Prep Course- Fall 2018 & Spring 2019

Upcoming Compliance Online Training

Compliance IQ Webinar

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/requestreasonableaccommodation.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/requestreasonableaccommodation.aspx

[iii] https://askjan.org/about-us/index.cfm

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