October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. As the month comes to a close, it is fitting that we review some recent landmark cases which involve the issue of disability accommodation in the workplaces.
An absence of American Sign Language interpretation or closed-captioning training videos during new hire orientation training, tours of the facilities, staff meetings and safety meetings.
The use of tools which ‘beep’ signals to indicate status, but cannot be heard by these workers.
Not providing equipment which vibrates or flashes lights.
The EEOC contends that a failure to provide these accommodations led to the hearing impaired workers being marginalized at the workplace, being deprived of adequate information required for effective performance on the job. Of course, FedEx Ground has every intention of contesting this allegation.
Both of these cases serve to bring an important insight to the rest of us. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws aim to enable people with disabilities to make significant contributions at work by requiring employers to accommodate the disabilities of employees – and applicants – when possible. Employers must understand what constitutes a “qualified worker”, a legally recognized disability, and “reasonable accommodation”. While the government is fairly clear in terms of legally recognized disability, issues arise when the employer and worker disagree on the notion of reasonable accommodation. Accommodating a worker means providing assistance or making changes in the job or workplace that will enable the worker to do the job. Workers needing such accommodations must inform the company of the disability and request a reasonable accommodation. When informed of a disability, the company must engage in a discussion with the worker regarding the kinds of accommodations that would be effective and practical. Employers can reject proposed accommodations that cause “undue hardship”. Again, this is a term subject to interpretation.
If you’re unsure whether you must provide a disabled employee with a specific accommodation, you might want to get some legal help. Investing in a little up front planning and research in these matters could help employers avoid the unnecessary effort and expense involved in contesting protracted lawsuits.
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