The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was enacted in 1990, yet employers still confront challenges as they attempt to interpret and comply with this landmark law. It can be a struggle to know when you need to provide an accommodation, how to have conversations with employees, and exactly how to accommodate requests. While you should always consult with your company’s human resources and/or legal departments on regulatory issues, the following practices can help facilitate accommodation requests.
Develop and Communicate Consistent Policies
Have a clear process in place so employees know how to request an accommodation and managers know how to handle such requests. Managers should also be trained to recognize when an employee needs an accommodation.
Clearly communicate and prominently display uniform absence management, disability, and leave policies across all levels of your workforce. This will help demonstrate that your organization is in compliance with the ADA. You should also communicate these policies as part of new employee orientation.
Implement the Interactive Process
Under the ADA, an employee’s request for an accommodation triggers the interactive process. During this process, the affected parties communicate with each other about the request, the problem that’s prompting the request, how the disability requires an accommodation, and alternative accommodations that may meet the employee’s needs.
An employee isn’t required to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” in order to request one. Anytime an employee says that he or she is having a problem related to a medical condition, the employer should consider whether the employee is implicitly making a request for accommodation under the ADA.
Train Supervisors and Managers
Supervisor and manager training about ADA compliance and recognizing the needs of disabled employees is more than good employee relations; it may help protect the employer in the event of litigation. Your organization’s ADA compliance program for managers and supervisors should train them to:
- Identify when an employee may need an accommodation.
- Know whom to contact within the organization to initiate the interactive process.
- Understand issues of privacy and confidentiality.
- Appropriately communicate and interact with employees who have accommodations.
- Refrain from making negative or derogatory remarks in response to an accommodation request.
- Ensure that an employee is able to perform his or her job with an accommodation where appropriate.
Track and Document
When an employee is ill, injured, out on leave, or returning to work, keep accurate records of the requests, actions, and decisions of all parties. This includes the employee, the manager, human resources, and external providers, including insurance carriers and caregivers.
Whether you use your own system or a third party, integrate tracking and documentation with all leave and disability programs, both occupational and nonoccupational. Be sure to keep records of all documentation to maintain compliance.
Coordinate Disparate Leave Requirements
Requirements to provide leave under the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), state regulations, and workers compensation can vary widely. For example, the FMLA has specific requirements for eligibility and limits the time available in a 12-month period. Under the ADA, all employees with disabilities may be eligible for leave regardless of hours worked or length of service, and there are no strict time limitations on the duration of leave you must provide.
Coordinate these requirements, and be sure to clearly communicate them to all employees, supervisors, and managers.
The Value of ADA Compliance
Ensuring your company’s compliance with ADA requirements takes hard work and constant vigilance. But in the end, it’s a rewarding endeavor, one that goes beyond merely complying with the law. Instilling disability awareness and developing a collaborative approach to absence management can help you retain valuable employees and improve productivity.