Best Practices in Accommodating Disabilities | DCR Workforce Blog

Best Practices in Accommodating Disabilities

Best Practices in Accommodating DisabilitiesThere is little disagreement regarding the importance of employing persons with disabilities. However, things become sticky when determining what is considered “reasonable accommodation” for a disabled person. The inherent subjectivity in terms like ‘reasonable accommodation’ and ‘undue hardship’ make it hard for both employers and employees to choose the right course of action. Unfortunately, in some cases this results in a reluctance to employ a disabled individual.

A few recent cases demonstrate just how complex this issue can be. Consider what your response would be, if you were the employer, in the following cases:

  1. Your employee suffers from anxiety and depression which are aggravated by rush hour traffic. The employee feels the need to work different hours. Does this warrant a disability classification, requiring accommodation? In a case that is still pending, an employer did allow the accommodation, but slowly eased the worker out when she took a leave of absence. The jury is still out on this one.
  2. A mental health condition renders an employee irritable and unwilling to obey instructions. The unruly behavior persists even after undergoing treatment. Would you retain the employee or sack the person for insubordination? Apparently, the worker cannot be terminated without a medical determination of whether insubordination could be health related. In this case, the employer was penalized for being unable to prove that tolerating insubordination creates an undue hardship on the business.
  3. An employee struggles with chronic health issues, which he never reveals to the employer. He also suffers from anger management issues and has many outbursts at work. He starts bringing a dog to work, without seeking any permission, and leaves it free to roam the premises. The dog is not housebroken.. While in the company of the dog, the employee shows improved behavior. The employer bars the untrained dog from the premises. Then, the angry outbursts return and the employee is terminated. He sues the company, saying he needs his dog to help him stay in control, and finally lists all his health issues which cause his behavior issues. Would the dog be considered “reasonable accommodation”? What health information must the employee reveal to an employer to be granted this accommodation?

These cases bring out the need for employers and workers to openly communicate. Both sides must have an understanding of the process for requesting and granting reasonable accommodation. And, of course, all parties should be reasonable as well as thorough in understanding the issue.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) outlines the process defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as follows:

  1. An employee should request a reasonable accommodation from his/her immediate supervisor or HHS. The request can be oral, but should be followed up with a written request using form “Confirmation of Request for Reasonable Accommodation” or by sending an email.
  2. A job applicant can request reasonable accommodation from the prospective employer of HHS employees with whom s/he has contact in connection with the application process.
  3. The request should be forwarded in no more than 3 days to the individual who will make the determination.
  4. If the request does not require medical certification, the decision should be made within 10 business days. If approved, the accommodation should be made within 10 days of approval.
  5. If medical certification is needed, the individual must provide authorization to the employer to obtain medical records. If then approved, the accommodation must be made within 15 days of approval.
  6. The employer must consult HHS before denying reasonable accommodation.

The reason for acceptance denial must be documented with HHS. In addition, annual reports must be filed. Keep in mind that:

  1. A disability may be voluntarily revealed during a disciplinary action to substantiate an explanation offered by an employee and may initiate future accommodations without any need to change the employer’s past actions.
  2. The employee holds the obligation to prove the link between the disability and the misconduct or performance issue under discussion.
  3. Employers may not require the disabled employee to follow a specific treatment regime or medication.
  4. The employer is not required to eliminate any could assess the essential functions of the worker’s job for the sake of accommodating any employee, even if disabled.
  5. Requests may be refused if the worker has had recurring episodes of leaving the job or being absent without notice, demonstrating anger or violence, or has a disability which offers no reasonable accommodation.
  6. The performance expectations after allowing the accommodation may be decided in consultation with the worker, by asking how the job requirements will be met. It may not be a great idea to unilaterally make assumptions about what a person can or cannot do. The plan should be developed and accepted by the employer and employee.
  7. These accommodations may be modified or withdrawn, using open lines of communication, if they prove insufficient to help the worker to perform the essential functions of his/her job. A similar approach may be adopted if the business needs are modified or changed over time.

When you hire people with disabilities, do make an effort to consider the accessibility of your work areas, the tools and technologies used, training methods, information dissemination processes. In short, pay attention to each and every aspect of the workplace which could potentially make it difficult for the disabled person(s) to work effectively. Consider disability-friendly rest rooms, drinking fountains, staircases/elevators/escalators, parking allotment and transportation systems. Ensure that the disabled worker has access to an emergency exit. More importantly, make sure that no part of the office space poses a hazard to the disabled worker.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.