The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities. Employers often find recognizing and handling requests for accommodations challenging. Following the steps below will enable employers to confidently recognize and handle accommodation requests in the workplace.
1. Develop Written Policies and Procedures
There are no specific policies or procedures that employers must follow when trying to accommodate an employee with a disability. However, it is a good idea for employers to develop written policies regarding accommodations for several reasons. First, written policies help supervisors, managers and HR professionals handle accommodation requests consistently. Second, providing employees with a written policy helps them know what to expect. Finally, written procedures help document employers’ efforts to comply with the ADA.
2. Train Supervisors to Recognize Accommodation Requests
Employees often file complaints under the ADA alleging that their employer did not respond to an accommodation request. Sometimes the problem is that a supervisor or manager simply did not recognize the request. An employee does not have to mention the ADA or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” when requesting an accommodation. Any time an employee indicates that a medical condition is causing a problem, it is a red flag that a request for accommodation is being made and the supervisor or manager should consult immediately with their HR department.
To illustrate: An employee tells her supervisor, “I’m having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I’m undergoing.” Here, the employee is signaling her supervisor that her medical condition is causing a problem (keeping her from getting to work on time). The supervisor should recognize this as a possible request for accommodation and inform the HR manager or other designated person responsible for accommodations.
3. Have a Process for Determining Reasonable Accommodations
Once the need for a reasonable accommodation has been identified, the employer should speak with the employee making the request. By engaging in an interactive process, the employer and employee can clarify what the employee’s challenges are and identify accommodations that will enable the employee to perform his/her duties effectively. Bear in mind that the employer does not have to provide the exact accommodation that the employee wants. If more than one accommodation works, the employer may choose which one to provide.