If you’ve ever had an employee request an accommodation due to a disability, you may be familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But after the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability, some employers have made several common (but avoidable) mistakes.
Here are 10 examples of how not to respond to an ADA accommodation request.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Using “Undue Hardship” Too Liberally
Did you write off an accommodation as an “undue hardship” because it costs too much? While cost is definitely something to consider, the price must be fairly extreme to be accepted in court as an undue hardship.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Rejecting a Disability for Being Unreasonable
If an employees’ request seems unreasonable or impractical, you still need to engage in a dialogue to determine if a solution can be reached. It’s possible you’ll still find the request to be unfeasible, but you need to follow the full process to reach that decision. As always, be sure to document everything!
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Ignoring an Accommodation Request Due to Lack of Employee Input
If an employee tells HR that he or she needs an accommodation, it’s the employer’s responsibility to investigate potential accommodations. The employee might provide suggestions of how an accommodation can be made, but fully relying on the employee’s input and then neglecting to make a reasonable accommodation because the employee didn’t provide a feasible solution is not acceptable.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Failing to Document a Denied Accommodation Request
When you’re unable to make an accommodation for an employee, keep clear records of the process followed and the reason for denial. Failing to do this will weaken your defense in the event of litigation.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Ending Accommodation Dialogue Early
When you can’t find a reasonable accommodation for your employee to perform an essential job function, don’t end the conversation prematurely by saying there are no other options. Consider accommodations such as working part-time, offering remote work, or reassigning the employee to a different position.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Temporarily Eliminating Essential Functions
While it may seem like a feasible solution, eliminating an essential job function from a position will only make it harder in the future to argue that it’s necessary for anyone to perform that job function. Other employees currently in this position may also argue that it shouldn’t be essential for them, either. Some may even claim discrimination if you’re making one age group, gender, race, and so on perform the job function, but not others.
If you feel strongly about temporarily eliminating an essential function of a job, be sure to emphasize that suspending or relaxing the essential function is temporary. Be sure to document the specific reasons for this action to avoid discrimination claims from other employees.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Assuming a Function is “Essential”
Speaking of essential job functions, if a manager tells you that a specific job function is essential, be proactive and investigate whether it truly is or not. Otherwise, your definition of “essential” may be contested in court. (Need help with identifying essential job functions? Contact your Stratus.hr HR expert!)
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Disclosing Someone’s Disability to Others
Few people are on a need-to-know basis for an employee’s disability. Even managers should only know the nature of the accommodation being provided rather than details about the disability. If, however, the disability affects how the manager needs to interact with the employee, such as a hearing impairment, then more information can be shared.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Ignoring Other Laws Applicable to a Disability
A disability under the ADA may also qualify as a serious health condition under the FMLA, which would trigger FMLA laws and provisions. Be sure to contact your Stratus.hr HR expert to ensure you’re considering all applicable laws for the situation.
ADA Accommodation Mistake: Deciding on an Accommodation Based on Performance
Regardless of performance, all workers should be treated the same when accommodations are requested. After all, it may be possible that an underachieving employee simply needs an accommodation to be a high performer.
Now, more than ever, it’s important that you keep job descriptions detailed and accurate, that you have an accommodation policy, and that your supervisors are trained on how to handle accommodation requests. With the burden placed on employers to provide reasonable accommodations when possible, and to show care when handling disability-related issues in the workplace, it’s critical to be familiar with the ADA to avoid costly lawsuits and penalties.
For more information, please contact your certified HR expert. Not a current Stratus HR client? Book a consultation and our team will contact you shortly.