Working with a disability can be challenging for many reasons. From physical barriers and accessibility issues to struggles with fair treatment and inclusion, disabled workers can encounter significant obstacles that may prevent them from entering or remaining in the workforce, but it is possible. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.3% of persons with a disability were employed in 2022. This is a 2.2% increase from the prior year and the highest increase since 2008.
Given the increase in the disabled employee population, employers must be more prepared to offer work accommodations to allow these individuals to do their job adequately. Unfortunately, the need for accommodations is much higher than what is currently being met. According to a Harvard Health and Retirement Study, only 20-30% of those with work-limiting disabilities reported receiving an accommodation, while the rate of workplace accommodation among those who would benefit is closer to 55-65%.
While providing accommodations to disabled workers can be challenging for employers for multiple reasons, the first barrier can be simply understanding what constitutes a disability and a reasonable accommodation.
When and how to offer accommodations
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), any employee with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity – even temporarily – is considered disabled. Covered employers are required by law to offer reasonable accommodations for a known disability of an applicant or employee who is qualified, barring the creation of undue hardship for the employer.
For employers, providing an accommodation means offering a change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, perform essential job functions, and enjoy equal benefits and privileges. Types of accommodations can include:
- Work schedule flexibility or remote work options;
- Assistive equipment or devices, including accessible computer software, screen reader software, and videophones to aid colleagues who are deaf;
- Improved workspace access, including ramps, open floor plans, and elevator access; and
- Support with essential job functions.
Challenges to effectively administering accommodations
To receive the appropriate accommodations, disabled employees must engage in, and cooperate with, the interactive process. Unfortunately, this can be daunting for employers to manage if there are resource limitations or a lack of understanding around the process, which may put them at risk of being out of compliance. In fact, under the ADA, either a disabled employee or the Equal Empowerment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing the ADA, may bring an action against an employer. Many states also have disability discrimination laws that authorize lawsuits by disabled employees or enforcement actions by state officials.
In addition to compliance risk, employers may be overwhelmed by the time and effort required to administer the accommodations. The reality is that once a process is initiated, it should be maintained and regularly updated by having check-ins with the employee to ensure the accommodations are appropriate and effective. This may mean ongoing training and supervision, which could be a challenge for employers to provide.
Brown & Brown Absence Services Group Accommodations Services
Brown & Brown Absence Services offers Accommodations Services to support employers and their employees. Our services feature full administrative offerings, including:
- Coordinating the interactive process with the employee and appropriate manager(s);
- Laying out available accommodations options;
- A follow-up to ensure the accommodation(s) is meeting the needs of the employee and employer; and
- Tracking and reporting for the employer.
Let our seasoned professionals assist you with ADA and leave accommodations. Contact us today to see how we can provide this value and support to your organization.
Nothing herein is considered legal advice.