Employers play a key role in supporting disabled employees in performing the essential duties of their job. While not all conditions require an accommodation, any employee with a disabling condition covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has a right to request a reasonable accommodation if they have a significant impairment that impacts their ability to perform their essential job functions.
From assessing the impact on the employee’s job function to determining whether it would create an undue hardship on the business, there’s much for employers to be aware of when considering a workplace accommodation request. In particular, there are three elements an employer must consider to manage an accommodation request appropriately. Employers should:
- Understand the criteria for a disability under the ADA,
- Establish a process for assessing accommodation requests, and
- Know how to deliver an accommodation that works for both parties.
Requirements established by the Americans with Disabilities Act
Complying with Title I of the ADA is essential for any employer. Whether they receive a request from a current employee for an accommodation or a candidate with a disabling condition moving through the interview process, employers must follow the established procedures set by the ADA.
For an employee to be protected under the ADA, they must “have a substantial, as opposed to a minor, impairment; have a record of such a condition, or be regarded as having such an impairment.” A substantial impairment significantly limits at least one “major life activity, such as hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, caring for oneself, learning, or working.” For instance, an employee with a broken finger who uses a computer as part of their job may be impacted by their injury. But, as it doesn’t limit a major activity of daily living, it would not be considered a substantial impairment. Meanwhile, a person with a history of mental illness could meet the criteria if they have a recorded diagnosis from their medical provider detailing limitations.
In addition to determining what a qualifying disability is, an employer should be clear about how it affects the essential functions of the employee’s job and whether a reasonable accommodation would be helpful. This requires determining which duties are critical to the job versus which are considered secondary.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if an employer considers a job candidate “qualified to perform essential job functions except for limitations caused by a disability, the employer must consider whether the individual could perform these functions with a reasonable accommodation.”
Establishing a process to implement effective accommodations
While not required by law, having a formal process around fielding accommodation requests can prove helpful for ensuring the necessary steps are followed and completed consistently. Having a standard procedure can be particularly useful for the Interactive Process. From documenting the conversation to ensuring the availability of staff who are well-versed in ADA compliance and have the appropriate training, a structure can streamline the process and guarantee compliance.
Additionally, employers should determine who will receive accommodation requests as the “Deciding Official.” An employee’s manager is typically the first person to receive the request and should be well-versed in receiving, properly handling, and moving the request forward.
Ensuring appropriate guidance is in place from Human Resources, legal professionals, and other experts in workplace accommodations is also important. Given the unique case-by-case nature of requests, having the appropriate resources available to ensure compliance and appropriateness of the response is crucial.
Providing a reasonable accommodation
When responding to an accommodation request, employers should be prepared to assess the accommodation’s impact on their business. While responding to the request is required by law, providing the specific request is not, especially if it will unduly affect the company from a productivity or financial standpoint. For example, should an employee with a hearing impairment request a specific headset to assist them in performing their job, the employer can choose to provide a more suitable option that meets their budget if the requested headset is cost prohibitive.
Brown & Brown Absence Services Group has a team of professionals with extensive experience in workplace accommodations and ADA issues. Contact us today to see how our experienced vocational rehabilitation specialists can provide you with support and guidance in these areas.
Nothing herein is considered legal advice.