A recent article about disability awareness and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sparked some serious questions about how far an employer needs to go to accommodate an applicant or an employee with a disability. The answer is: as far as possible to accommodate the needs of a person with a disability so they can perform the core functions of their job.
Good employers are committed to keeping valued employees working. And, employers who value their employees will gladly help with an accommodation. What every employer worries about, though, is being scammed by a deadbeat employee who attempts to use the law to his or her advantage and the employer's disadvantage. This is why the employer can require a second, and even a third, medical opinion, when an employee requests an accommodation.
According to a BLR Human Resources training series, one in six Americans has some form of disability and many of them are hidden. With this in mind, accommodating employees with a disability is common, and you may not even know that your fellow employee needs or is using an accommodation. Since medical information is protected by HIPAA standards, Human Resources offices store medical-related information in files that are not accessible by anyone except HR staff.
The second most frequent question to arise when I teach about the ADA, FMLA, or other employment-type laws, is what constitutes an accommodation? As a result of the frequency of that question, I've put together these examples for your use. Some are accommodations an employer might make for applicants so the employer does not discriminate against certain disabilities in hiring. Most of these examples are ways in which employers have helped valued employees with a needed accommodation.
Examples of Applicant AccommodationWhen dealing with applicants who may have a disability, an employer must only consider the person with a disability for positions for which they are qualified. An applicant who has a disability must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with the help of a reasonable work accommodation.
The employer does not have the obligation to hire a person with a disability before a person without a disability. They do, however, have the obligation not to discriminate against a person with a disability. The employer retains his or her right to choose the most qualified candidate. These are examples of accommodations an employer can make to fairly consider a candidate with a disability. You can learn more about the employer's obligation to accommodate from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Schedule an onsite interview with a qualified candidate who may have a hearing loss rather than requiring the person to pass a telephone screen first.
- Modify the job application process to allow a person with a disability to apply. Examples of this include providing large print, audio tape or Braille versions of the application or allowing a person to apply on a paper application when an online application is normally required, or vice versa.
- Provide a sign language interpreter or a reader during the interview process.
- Conduct interviews in a first floor office when an elevator is unavailable. Make sure that all areas required for the application process are accessible.
- Alter the format or the time allotted for a required test unless the test is measuring a skill that is an essential function of the job.
- Provide or modify equipment or devices that are necessary to perform the essential function of the job when that function is tested or assessed as part of the application process.
Examples of Employee AccommodationEmployers are required to make accommodation where possible to enable an employee to perform the essential functions of their job. Responsible, employee-oriented, employers care about how they are viewed as an employer by the individual, the individual's coworkers, and the community. Employers of choice make accommodations, whenever possible, for employees.
According to the ADA, "an employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation to the known disability of an employee if it would not impose an 'undue hardship' on the operation of the employer's business. Undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer's size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.
"An employer is not required to lower quality or production standards to make an accommodation; nor is an employer obligated to provide personal use items such as glasses or hearing aids."
These are examples of accommodations an employer might make for a qualified employee.
- Modify the employee's work schedule in terms of hours, days, shifts, full- or part-time work, or starting and ending times.
- Provide a sign language interpreter or a reader when necessary at work for gatherings such as meetings and training sessions.
- Make sure that all areas the employee needs to enter to perform his or her job and to enjoy the equal benefits of employment are accessible.
- Alter the format or the time allotted for a required test for a promotion or other job change unless the test is measuring a skill that is an essential function of the job.
- Provide or modify equipment or devices that are necessary to perform the essential function of the job.
- Provide or modify equipment or devices that are necessary to perform the essential function of the job. Examples include teletype writers (TTYs) or telephone amplifiers, tactile markings on equipment, or special computer equipment.
- Adjust training materials or policies for an employee with a disability. As an example, allow telecommuting even though your policy requires an employee to have been employed for a year before telecommuting.
- Reassign an employee to an open position for which he or she is qualified.
- Enable the employee to perform their essential job functions by telecommuting from their home.