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

11 Changes to New York State Sexual Harassment Laws

Yes, that does read correctly, 11 upcoming changes.  New York State legislators have passed multiple regulations related to sexual harassment in the workplace; training, policies, reporting, etc.  Many of these new regulations and rules are in the wake of the #MeToo movement and the many issues we have seen with sexual harassment in the workplace in a variety of industries, organizations and professions.  As leader’s we cannot tolerate harassment of any kind.  The new law(s) require employers to provide sexual-harassment training to all workers and much more.

The 11 changes to sexual harassment legislation (for now):

  1. October 9, 2018: As of now, and by October 9, 2018, employers in New York State must implement annual sexual-harassment training. The state is developing a model program, which can be used by employers.  Any training implemented must meet or exceed the minimal state requirements.  More to come on this area of change.

Training Requirements:

  1. “An explanation of sexual harassment and specific examples of inappropriate conduct.
  2. Detailed information concerning federal, state and local laws and the remedies available to victims of harassment.
  3. An explanation of employees’ external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.”[i]

Sexual-Harassment Prevention Policy

The state is requiring organizations to adopt a sexual-harassment prevention policy and distribute to employees (yes now you must have a handbook of sorts), the expectations of the new requirements could vary from what your organization is currently using.  The state has strict requirements for organizations policies and procedures.  Be aware of expectations and implement accordingly.  The policy is required to include (for now):

  1. “A statement prohibiting sexual harassment and providing examples of what constitutes sexual harassment.
  2. Information about federal and state sexual-harassment laws and the remedies that are available to victims—and a statement that there may be additional local laws on the matter.
  3. A standard complaint form.
  4. Procedures for a timely and confidential investigation of complaints that ensures due process for all parties.
  5. An explanation of employees’ external rights of redress and the available administrative and judicial forums for bringing complaints.
  6. A statement that sexual harassment is a form of employee misconduct and that sanctions will be enforced against those who engage in sexual harassment and against supervisors who knowingly allow such behavior to continue.
  7. A statement that it is unlawful to retaliate against employees who report sexual harassment or who testify or assist in related proceedings.”[ii]

Senate Passes Comprehensive Strengthening of New York’s Sexual Harassment Laws

The Senate Bill

Guidance on Sexual Harassment for All Employers in New York State

These changes are significant across the state.  As leaders, we need to begin planning for training needs throughout the organization and updating policies and procedures.  The training should have a sign in and sign out sheet to ensure employees did attend and stayed to complete the training.  Recording the training to verify all were in attendance was a suggestion I recently heard at a training, but to also show new employees during the new hire orientation process.  Remember this is an annual training.  However, new hires need training as well.  Policies that are modified need to have signatures and witness signatures to verify receipt and understanding.  We are all learning about these changes together.  We need to be proactive and seek guidance, as these laws continue to change and evolve.  New York City has laws above and beyond state requirements (more to be written on this).  Continue to monitor for new updates coming out of Albany.  There are many legal seminars throughout the state on this topic, which will be helpful to organizations of all sizes.  More to be written on these new requirements in upcoming articles!

 

 

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-sexual-harassment-training.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/state-and-local-updates/pages/new-york-sexual-harassment-training.aspx

5 Considerations on Bereavement and Funeral Leave

Recently we recorded an Upstate HR Podcast episode discussing bereavement and funeral leave policies within organizations and concerns with not enough time or inconsistencies.  In the unfortunate event an employee needs to use leave for bereavement or funeral leave, organizations need to have policies and processes in place that ensure consistency throughout the workforce.  As family relationships have evolved, so to should our policies and procedures.

The 5 considerations on bereavement and funeral leave:

  1. Notification Process: If an employee needs to take time off for leave, who should they notify and what is the process for approving the time? Should the employee contact their supervisor or the human resources department?  Does the supervisor contact a manager or the human resources department?  Email, phone, text message, etc.? More than likely the employee will notify their supervisor, but we need to outline the processes in the policy.
  2. Extended Leave: Will we grant extended leave for an employee who needs additional time to cope with the loss or coordinate family affairs? Can the employee use PTO and/or vacation time?  Remember, there might be legal issues, funeral planning, estate meetings, etc. that an employee must deal with in relation to the loss.  Situations will vary.  If the death happens in the winter, will we allow time off in the spring for the burial? These are areas we don’t usually consider but need to recognize.  Most organizations are lenient with granting additional time off, but we should outline it in the policy.
  3. Paid Bereavement Leave: This will vary by organization. Organizations might grant unlimited leave to cope with a loss.  Other organizations have a set number of days based on the relationship in the family.  Below is a simple draft outline to consider as part of your leave policy:
    1. “Employees are allowed up to four consecutive days off from regularly scheduled duty with regular pay in the event of the death of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, stepchild, parent, stepparent, father-in-law, mother, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, or an adult who stood in loco parentis to the employee during childhood.
    2. Employees are allowed one day off from regular scheduled duty with regular pay in the event of death of the employee’s brother-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, uncle, grandparent, grandchild or spouse’s grandparent.
    3. Employees are allowed up to four hours of bereavement leave to attend the funeral of a fellow regular employee or retiree of the company, provided such absence from duty will not interfere with normal operations of the company.”[i]

Relationships in families vary, the policy needs to be flexible, but consistent.  Ensure you are providing the needed time off for the workforce.

  1. Providing Documentation: Organizations I have worked for in the past have required notice if an employee does ask for bereavement and funeral leave. We have requested obituary notices; newspaper or website and employees have returned with copies of the funeral documentation.  Unfortunately, I have seen employees abuse leave and lie about their need for bereavement leave.  If you do require documentation, ensure you are doing so consistently.
  2. Pay Policy: “Bereavement pay is calculated based on the base pay rate at the time of absence, and it will not include any special forms of compensation, such as incentives, commissions, bonuses, overtime or shift differentials.”[ii] Policies will vary; this sentence is short and covers the details.

The loss of a loved one is challenging for anyone.  The organizational policies are necessary, but showing compassion and understanding is the most important thing we can do for our workforce.  Remember to offer Employee Assistance (EAP) to any employee that is struggling with the loss, as these services provide additional support for our employees and their families.  Be consistent and flexible with the policies.  Ensure that the policy is reviewed and updated.  As always, remember to seek guidance if you need assistance reviewing and updating all policies.

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_006397.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/policies/pages/cms_006397.aspx

-Matthew W. Burr

3 Thoughts on What Should and Should Not Be Included in the Personnel Files

In a March 2015 article written by the Society of Human Resource Management, the article provided guidance on separating employee files for relevancy and confidentiality.  Employee records can be separated into three types of files.  “A general personnel file, a confidential employee file and a common file.”[i]  Organizations should always consider and be aware of sensitive information (date of birth, marital status, Social Security numbers, HIPAA protected information, criminal history, court orders, financial history, etc.), that can be included in any of the three separated files.  Other considerations should include relevancy to the supervisor or management of the workforce.  “Is it related to the employee’s performance, knowledge skills, abilities or behavior?”[ii]  This should also be a determining factor, when separating information and organizing new files.  Does the supervisor or manager need access to all the information?

The Basic Personnel File (supervisor and manager relevant):

  • Recruiting information, resumes, job application and academic transcripts
  • Job descriptions (signed)
  • Job offer, promotion, rates of pay, compensation information, training records
  • Handbook and policy acknowledgements (including revised policies)
  • Recognition
  • Disciplinary information, warnings, coaching and counseling
  • Performance evaluations
  • Termination records, exit interview, closure of the file (goes without writing)

The Confidential Personnel File:

  • EEO records
  • Reference and background checks
  • Drug test results
  • Medical and insurance records
  • Child support and garnishments
  • Legal documents
  • Workers compensation and short-term disability claims
  • Investigation notes
  • Form I-9*

The Common File:

  • Form I-9 Audits
  • Form I-9’s* (my recommendation is to put active employee’s I-9’s in a binder that is accessible, confidential and locked in a cabinet, for auditing and reviews).

Regardless of the filing process(s) your organization has implemented, the information contained in any of the employee files needs to be kept confidential and locked in secure filing cabinets.  During trainings with supervisors and managers, my statement is simple, treat your employee’s information as it is your own confidential information.  The last thing we want is open personnel files on desks, doctor’s notes attached to calendars and unlocked filing cabinets.  When an employee exits the organization, I consolidate all files and information into one folder and store in a terminated employee file section, with the exit interview (if applicable).  “Maintaining records in separate files as discussed above allows managers, employees and outside auditors to see the information they need to make decisions, yet does not allow inappropriate access.”[iii]  Filing and organizing paperwork is not always fun, but it is necessary to ensure legality and confidentiality.  If you are confused on employee files and appropriate storage, seek guidance.  Electronic files and legal requirements related to electronic filing can vary by state, a thorough understanding of these laws is necessary prior to implementing an electronic filing system.  We should be proactive and take all precautions, related to employee records and record retention.

[iv]

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/includedinpersonnelfile.aspx

[iv] http://cyquesthr.com/access-personnel-files-laws-50-states/

9 Statistics on 2017 EEOC Claims

On January 25, 2018 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that a decreased number (from 2016) of 84,254 workplace discrimination charges were filed with the federal agency during the fiscal year of 2017.  These charges, lawsuits and settlements, secured $398 million for victims in private sector, state and local government workplaces, costing organizations and tax payers a significant amount of money.  “Retaliation, which topped the list, occurs when employers treat some people less favorably than others…that includes job applicants, employees, and former employees…the 41,097 retaliation charges the EEOC received made up nearly 49 percent of the complaints.”[i]

9 statistics on 2017 EEOC claims:

  1. “Race: 28,528 charges (33.9 percent).
  2. Disability: 26,838 charges (31.9 percent).
  3. Sex: 25,605 charges (30.4 percent).
  4. Age: 18,376 charges (21.8 percent).
  5. National origin: 8,299 charges (9.8 percent).
  6. Religion: 3,436 charges (4.1 percent).
  7. Color: 3,240 charges (3.8 percent).
  8. Equal Pay Act: 996 charges (1.2 percent).
  9. Genetic information: 206 charges (.2 percent).

*The percentages add up to more than 100 because some charges allege multiple bases.”[ii]

The EEOC also received 6,696 sexual harassment charges and obtained $46.3 million in monetary relief for the victims of these claims.  There are two types of sexual harassment claims included; quid pro quo (this for that) and creating a hostile work environment (a variety of issues in the workplace).

Overall, the number of EEOC filings decreased, as compared to 2016 data.  However, retaliation claims are on the rise and have been on the rise for many years.  As leaders, we need to understand that an employee filing a charge with the EEOC or the Department of Human Rights (NYS legislation), is as easy as going to a website and working through the steps, as outlined on the respected site.  The EEOC, in the past, has tweeted steps to submit a claim, through Twitter.  These claims are real, do not assume “this can never happen to our organization.”  It can, and it does happen to organizations of any size, in any location.  A culture of respect and zero-tolerance for discrimination and retaliation, while following up on allegations, will set the tone for reducing the likelihood of claims against our organizations.

The Department of Human Rights has not released statistics for 2017 claims.  Employees can file claims with the EEOC and/or Department of Human Rights, if there are issues in the workplace. Use the link below to learn more about what to do in the case of receiving an EEOC charge of discrimination, and as always, if you are uncertain about your compliance or HR practices, seek the assistance of a consultant and/or legal team for guidance.

What should I do if I receive an EEOC charge of discrimination?

[i] https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/Pages/EEOC-Retaliation-Makes-Up-Almost-Half-of-Discrimination-Charges.aspx

[ii] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/1-25-18.cfm

 

4 EEOC Guidelines on Workplace Harassment Prevention and Cadillac Healthcare Tax Updates

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently released the “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment.”  This is a guidance document for employers, that contains harassment prevention recommendations for all employers in four categories.  As leaders we have a responsibility to take all harassment claims serious and need to ensure a proactive approach to investigations, communication and accountability as it related to workplace harassment claims, sexual harassment, retaliation, bullying, workplace violence concerns, etc.

The Four Categories:

  1. Leadership and Accountability: “The cornerstone of a successful harassment prevention strategy is the consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.”[i]
  2. Comprehensive and Effective Harassment Policy: “A comprehensive, clear harassment policy that is regularly communicated to all employees is an essential element of an effective harassment prevention strategy.”[ii]
  3. Effective and Accessible Harassment Complaint System: “An effective harassment complaint system welcomes questions, concerns, and complaints; encourages employees to report potentially problematic conduct early; treats alleged victims, complainants, witnesses, alleged harassers, and others with respect; operates promptly, thoroughly, and impartially; and imposes appropriate consequences for harassment or related misconduct, such as retaliation.”[iii]
  4. Effective Harassment Training: “Leadership, accountability, and strong harassment policies and complaint systems are essential components of a successful harassment prevention strategy, but only if employees are aware of them. Regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees may help ensure that the workforce understands organizational rules, policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as the consequences of misconduct.”[iv]

For additional information on the Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment guidance (each of the four have additional recommendations on the website) for your organization and workforce, the link is below:

Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment

Cadillac Tax Updates

Congress passed a law on January 22 to delay the affordable Car Act’s 40 percent excise tax on high-value healthcare plan for two years.  The Cadillac tax was set to take effect in 2020, under the new law, the tax will be delayed until 2022.

What to expect in 2022:

  • $10,200 for individual coverage ($11,850 for qualified retirees and those in high-risk professions).
  • $27,500 for family coverage ($30,950 for qualified retirees and those in high-risk professions).[v]

Under the new administration we could see significant changes to the Affordable Care Act and healthcare in general.  Continue to monitor for updates and changes, that can and will impact your workforce.  If you are confused seek guidance, healthcare law continues to evolve in complexity at the federal and state levels.

[i] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/promising-practices.cfm

[ii] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/promising-practices.cfm

[iii] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/promising-practices.cfm

[iv] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/promising-practices.cfm

[v] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/congress-delays-cadillac-tax-until-2022.aspx

 

4 Need to Knows on Inclement Weather and W-2 Scams Updates

The weather, throughout the country during this time of year can be extreme, causing delays, and at times we will need to shut down operations because of inclement and unpredictable weather.  As most of us know, a few weeks ago the extreme cold was a perfect example of weather causing operations to close.  As leaders, we need ensure safety of our workforce and to fully understand the laws and regulations related to pay for both exempt and nonexempt workers, if the organization closes due to inclement weather.  

Below are 4 need to knows on inclement weather and pay:

  1. Exempt Employees: Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, exempt employees almost always must be paid during inclement weather and/or a natural disaster.  The Department of Labor has a list of instances in which an employer can dock an exempt employees pay, inclement weather and/or a natural disaster does not fall into pay docking.  The exempt employee must be paid for the entire day.  If the organization plans to close for an entire week due to weather or a disaster, at this time, an organization would not have to pay an exempt employee.
  2. Nonexempt Employees: Under the FLSA (federal law), employers are only required to pay hourly, nonexempt employees hours worked.  Certain states have report-in or call-in pay laws that can require employers to pay nonexempt employees if they show up to work as scheduled.
  3. New York State Nonexempt Laws: The New York Labor Law “Call-In Pay” provisions state, “that an employee who, by request or permission, reports to work on any day shall be paid at least the lesser of: a) four hours at the basic minimum wage rate; or (b) the number of hours in the employee’s “regularly scheduled shift” at the basic minimum hourly rate.”[i]  In inclement weather or a natural disaster, call-in pay will be due regardless of whether or not an employee was called in or showed up for work during their regularly scheduled shift and is informed  at that time, the organization is closed.

NYS DOL Minimum Wage Order Language

  1. Federal versus State Laws: In this situation, state law will supersede the federal laws related to inclement weather and nonexempt employee pay.  State laws on this subject will vary, this is just an example from New York State.  Be aware of legal requirements during this season of unpredictable weather.  If a nonexempt employee is working from home (emails, phone calls, etc.) during the inclement weather, this would also constitute payment for hours worked.  

Communication is critical in situations involving inclement weather or natural disasters.  We need to be proactive with our communication, while ensuring our employees know about closures prior to showing up for work.  Communication should be the normal communication process in the organization (phone, email, text, etc.)

W-2 Scams:

I wrote about this topic last year as well.  Cyber thieves continue to file fake tax returns and claim refunds.  Recently the thieves have posed as company executives and have obtained protected information from organizations about the employees.

Below are links to helpful resources regarding these scams:

Form W-2/SSN Data Theft: Information for Businesses and Payroll Service Providers

How to Handle W-2 Phishing Scams

Report Phishing and Online Scams

[i] http://www.hodgsonruss.com/newsroom-publications-inclement-weather.html