If your business has 15 or more employees, you may be subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Recent changes to ADA have broadened the definition of disability so that more employees can seek accommodation under the law. How your organization manages accommodation requests can help you stay in compliance and help your employees be productive at work.
The Interactive Process
Under the ADA, an employee’s request for an accommodation triggers the interactive process. In this process, the affected parties communicate with each other about the request, the precise nature of the problem that prompted the request, how a disability is prompting a need for an accommodation, and alternative accommodations that may meet the employee’s needs.
An employee does not have to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” Anytime an employee says that he or she is having difficulty performing a job due to a medical condition, consider whether the employee is implicitly making a request for accommodation under the ADA.
While you should always consult with legal counsel on regulatory issues, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free service funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, recommends the following six-step process to recognize and properly manage accommodation requests.
Step 1: Recognize an accommodation request.
- Ask the employee to clarify what’s being requested and why, and begin the documentation process with the response to your question.
- Act quickly and respond immediately. Unnecessary delays in processing a request may violate the ADA.
- Assign responsibility for tracking the accommodation process to at least one person.
Step 2: Gather information.
- Find out the limitation and the problem. Employees with disabilities often know the types of accommodation they need.
- If the employee is out on disability, consult with your disability carrier about accommodations.
- Understand the ADA rules regarding medical inquiries. Ask only what is absolutely necessary.
Step 3: Explore accommodation options.
- Keep an open mind. Accommodation requires doing things differently to help overcome a limitation.
- Invite the employee’s input. The employee might have some good ideas but may hesitate to offer them unless asked.
- Contact your disability carrier to see whether it has vocational and/or certified ADA staff who can provide information or counsel.
- Reach out to other resources, such as the employee’s medical provider or the Job Accommodation Network, for suggestions.
Step 4: Choose an accommodation.
- Take the employee’s feedback into account. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests you give primary consideration to the employee’s preferred accommodation.
- Consider a trial period. Try out the accommodation and see how it works.
Step 5: Implement the accommodation.
- Make sure all necessary steps are taken to implement the accommodation.
- Adhere to ADA confidentiality rules, and let managers and supervisors know about the accommodation only when necessary.
Step 6: Monitor the accommodation.
- Check its effectiveness. As things change in the workplace or for the employee, accommodation needs may change.
- If equipment is part of the accommodation, make sure it’s properly maintained.
- Check in with employees about any issues they may have with their accommodations. Ongoing communication is the key to success.
- Maintain contact with your disability carrier, as return-to-work options may affect benefit payments.
Requests for accommodation may be difficult for employees to initiate. By being prepared, you can have productive discussions, be in compliance with the law, and help your employees stay at work.