Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility The true costs of falling short and mismanaging an accommodation request - Brown & Brown Absence Services Group

Imagine this: An employee recently diagnosed with a severe medical condition approaches their supervisor to ask for a change to their work schedule to attend appointments related to the condition. Since this will cut into their regularly scheduled hours, they are seeking a reasonable accommodation to allow them to attend these appointments. The supervisor takes down the details of the request and lets them know they will get back to them promptly with a decision after consulting Human Resources.

The employee waits a few days and follows up with their supervisor since they are concerned about upcoming appointments. When the supervisor finally comes back with a response nearly two weeks later, the employee has had to reschedule one of their appointments and is considering legal action as it has caused undue stress and delayed their much-needed treatment.

This scenario is just one example of how a business might inadvertently mismanage an accommodation request. Being prepared and trained to handle a request appropriately is key to avoiding violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and causing serious financial and legal consequences.

What can the mismanagement of an accommodation request look like?
While the ADA will cover most employers, all businesses must be aware of whether they are covered before they even have a chance to receive an accommodation request. Nearly 25% of the workforce is made up of individuals with disabilities, so it is crucial employers understand what is required of them.

Employers with more than 15 employees, including state and local governments, must comply with ADA regulations, while small businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt. Whether or not your organization must abide by the ADA, having resources well-versed in fielding and responding to an accommodation request is beneficial. For those businesses required by law to comply, it is vitally important to have these resources available, as a lack of understanding about what’s involved can put an employer at serious risk for mismanagement.

Some examples of how an employer may mismanage an accommodation include:

    • Not responding to a request in a reasonable timeframe or at all;
    • Failing to conduct the interactive process to understand the impact of the disability on the employee’s ability to perform their job effectively;
    • Not providing suitable accommodations that allow an employee to meet the requirements of their job;
    • Factoring in the employee’s job performance when determining whether to provide an accommodation; and,
    • Expecting the employee to provide the idea for a reasonable accommodation and denying the request if it isn’t supplied.

An employer that has responded to a request timely and provided a reasonable accommodation can still be at risk for mismanagement if they fail to continue discussions with the employee to ensure the accommodation still meets their needs.

The consequences of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act
Failure to effectively manage a reasonable accommodation request can be a costly consequence for an employer. Any employee who feels they have been a victim of discrimination because of their disability can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The Charge of Discrimination, however, must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. Employees may even be able to file complaints at the state or local for additional discrimination relief.

If the EEOC determines that a violation took place, they may look to seek a settlement. However, not all Charges are settled, with many transitioning to the courtroom instead. If either party chooses this route, the employer may be responsible for a hefty payout. Disregarding any additional fees or damages awarded, compensatory damages alone typically range between $50,000 and $300,000, depending on the size of the employer.

Ensuring the proper handling of an accommodation request
Given the risks an employer faces if they mismanage an accommodation request, it’s essential that adequate training, processes, and procedures are in place. Supervisors should be given the appropriate training and have appropriate resources and tools available to field requests.

In addition to providing information about the ADA and employment, multiple government agencies and departments have resources available online to help employers understand best practices when handling reasonable accommodation requests, including:

Consulting an expert in accommodations and disability cases can help ensure the proper handling of requests. Brown & Brown Absence Services Group has a team of experienced professionals who are up-to-date on the latest guidelines and industry best practices that employers need to know. Contact Brown & Brown today to see how our team of professionals with extensive experience in workplace accommodations and ADA issues can best help you.

Nothing herein should be considered legal advice.