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 Changes to the Procedures for Processing Disability Claims at the Department of Labor

On April 1, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) implemented new procedures for processing disability claims.  This change impacts employer-sponsored plans, which deal with disability claims.  The Society of Human Resource Management recommends amending plans as needed, with the significant change in procedure processing.  The final rule was published in the Federal Register in December of 2016 and initial implementation was scheduled for January 1, 2018.  In November 2017, the DOL delayed the rollout of the new procedure until April 1, 2018.

Federal Register: Claims Procedure for Plans Providing Disability Benefits

90 Day Delay Information

The 5 changes for disability claims:

  1. “Requires that the reason for a denied claim be provided as soon as possible and sufficiently in advance of the date that the plan’s decision on appeal is due, to give the claimant a reasonable opportunity to respond.
  2. Ensures that disability claimants receive a clear explanation for why their claim was denied, as well as information on their rights to appeal a denial and to review and respond during the course of an appeal to any new or additional evidence the plan relied on in connection with the claim.
  3. Requires that a claims adjudicator cannot be hired, promoted, terminated or compensated based on the likelihood of denying claims.”[i]
  4. The new procedures can impact disability claims under the employee benefit plan, which is covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). In some circumstances, this can impact retirement plans, as well as medical coverage and other perks.  “Nonqualified deferred compensation or supplemental retirement plans…may have different benefit terms or entitlements based on disability.”[ii]
  5. “If employers have fully insured plans, they should monitor their insurance providers to ensure that the new procedures are being followed, Mindy said. For the most part, insurers have started implementing these procedures,” and they have reason to do so, since the courts can hold them liable as plan fiduciaries for a fully insured plan, he noted.  For self-funded plans, typically managed by a third-party administrator (TPA), there’s obviously more for plan sponsors to look at” because the employer bears greater liability for noncompliance.”[iii]

The reporting and disclosure guide for employee benefit plans outlines the required steps plan sponsors and organizations need to take when communicating changes to the summary plan description or summary of material modifications.  The modifications should outline the claims procedures and distribution should take place 120 days after the end of the plan year in which the change is made or as outlined in the reporting disclosure guide.  As discussed in previous articles, we continue to see significant changes in laws and compliance requirements.  Ensure your organization is working with your plan sponsors to communicate the required information.

Reporting and Disclosure Guide for Employee Benefit Plans

 

– Matthew Burr, HR Consultant

 

 

 

[i] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/new-disability-claims-procedures-take-effect.aspx

[ii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/new-disability-claims-procedures-take-effect.aspx

[iii] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/new-disability-claims-procedures-take-effect.aspx

 

Are You Due for a Sabbatical?

Introduction Contributed by Kara Whittaker, Ghergich & Co. https://ghergich.com/   Kara@Ghergich.com

There’s a crisis in the American workplace, but it’s probably not what you think it is. We’re not taking our vacation time, and it’s leading to all sorts of unproductive, cranky, stressed-out employees. And that, we all know, isn’t good for business.
Employees not taking vacation time is not a small problem, either. In fact, the trend keeps going up—we keep taking less and less of what we’re owed—to the tune of over 660 million days left on the table, every year. If you’re one of those employees that keeps ignoring your vacation (or even if you’re not), then you might want to consider a radical approach to hitting that reset button: a sabbatical.
Many people are familiar with a sabbatical in the academic world; it’s a chance for academics to pursue a rigorous research idea and do so without having to teach class. But the same notion can be used in the workplace, even if it’s just for a few weeks or months. Here’s what to know about it – https://www.discover.com/personal-loans/resources/major-expenses/sabbatical/

you_may_be_due_for_a_sabbatical_and_not_even_know_it

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

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

 

2018 OSHA 300-A Posting Timeline

As many of us know; all employers are required to keep OSHA Form 300 (Injury and Illness Log) records throughout the year and must post Form 300A.  This annual summary of job-related illness and injuries, must be posted in the workplace by February 1, 2018.  The OSHA 300-A from should be posted in common areas, comparable to locations of labor and employment posters, workers compensation certification and paid family leave certification (break rooms, meeting rooms, kitchens, etc.).  The summary must include the total number of job-related injuries and illnesses that occurred in 2017.

Areas to remember:

  1. Posting Period: The posting period starts on February 1, 2018 and ends on April 30, 2018.
  2. What is a Form 300A: The form reports a business’s total number of fatalities, missed workdays, job transfers or restrictions, and injuries and illnesses as recorded on the OSHA Form 300.  The information posted should also include the number of employees and the hours they worked for the year.  No recordable illnesses or injuries?    However, an organization must still post the form, with zeroes on the appropriate lines.
  3. Helpful Links:

OSHA Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements

Injury & Illness Recordkeeping Forms

OSHA Recordkeeping Advisor

Partially Exempt Industries List

“The Trump administration continues to look for ways to lessen the regulatory burden on employers. As a result, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) electronic recordkeeping regulation continues to be whittled down. OSHA’s latest Regulatory Agenda sets out new changes to the already beleaguered rule. Specifically, OSHA intends to propose to amend the Electronic Recordkeeping rule to eliminate the requirement that establishments with 250 or more employees submit OSHA 300 Logs and 301 forms. Instead, two types of establishments would continue to submit 300A summary forms: (1) establishments of 250 or more employees; and (2) establishments with between 20 and 249 employees in the high-hazard industries listed in Appendix A to the regulation. Employers with establishments meeting these criteria electronically submitted OSHA 300A summaries with 2016 data on or before December 31, 2017 and will submit their calendar year 2017 summaries by July 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019, and every year thereafter, covered establishments must submit the information by March 2.”[i]

As we see with many of the HR laws and regulations, OSHA is continuing to evolve and change under the new administration.  Ensure that you are monitoring for recent or upcoming changes and posting as required under the federal and state law.  Public sector rules will vary as well.  If you have questions, seek guidance.  Safety rules and regulations can be complex, just as HR laws and regulations are.

[i] https://ogletree.com/shared-content/content/blog/2018/january/osha-anticipates-more-changes-to-the-electronic-recordkeeping-rule

 

 

4 Updates IRS Deadline to Supply ACA Forms to Employees

In late December 2017, the IRS announced an extension for employer’s providing Affordable Care Act forms to employee’s.  As the future of the Affordable Care Act is still undecided, employers should be proactive in distributing and communicating information to the workforce.

Below are 4 updates for the ACA:

  1. Extension: The IRS extended the date to March 2, 2018 to distribute the 2017 forms to employees.  This is a 30-day extension to the regularly scheduled date of late January 2018.
  2. Penalty: “The IRS, which announced the extension December 22 in Notice 2018-06, also said it will not impose penalties on employers that can show that they made good-faith efforts to comply with the Affordable Car Act’s (ACA’s) information reporting requirements for plan year 2017.”[1]

Notice 2018-06

Information Reporting Requirements for Plan Year 2017

  1. IRS Filing Deadline: The due dates for filing 2017 returns with the IRS is not extended.  The due dates to file information returns with the IRS remain; February 28 paper filers and April 2 electronic filers.
  2. The Future and Beyond: “Although this is the third year that the IRS has granted transition relief for reporting, the notice states significantly that the IRS does not anticipate granting transition relief for 2018 or future years,” Jost pointed out. “This statement highlights the fact that, although the individual mandate penalty is repealed as of 2019, the reporting requirements that support it, as well as the employer mandate, remain in effect.”[2]

Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tax Provisions

Form 1095-B

Form 1095-C

As leader’s, we must be proactive in approaching the Affordable Care Act’s current and future legislation.  As the individual mandate penalty is repealed, the healthcare law is still the law of the land, for now.  Continue to watch for more changes in 2018 and 2019.  The ACA is complex, seek guidance if you are unclear on a path-forward.

Below is a link to the NYS Paid Family Leave Resources:

NYS Paid Family Leave Employer Webinar

PFL Resource Page

Model Language for Employer Material

[1] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/irs-extends-aca-form-distribution-deadline.aspx

[2] https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/irs-extends-aca-form-distribution-deadline.aspx