56 HR Magazine October 2017
essential job functions while avoiding work that involved
climbing or lifting heavy objects. The end result: a happy
manager who didn’t have to recruit and train a new cook,
a happy employee who could continue to work, and an HR
team in full compliance with federal law.
Experts say that most accommodation requests can
work out this way— if employers lay the right foundation.
That’s more important than ever given a recent rise
in workplace accommodation requests, driven in part
by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act
(ADAAA), which Congress passed in 2008 to broaden the
definition of disability and
make it easier for employees
to seek workplace accommodations. At the same
time, U.S. obesity rates have
more than doubled since the
1970s—which has led to an
associated rise in weight-related health problems such
as high-blood pressure and
diabetes—and more older
employees, who have a higher
incidence of disabilities, are remaining in the workforce.
“Employers are seeing more requests, and they are
taking them more seriously,” says Jonathan R. Mook, an
employment law attorney with Alexandria, Va.-based law
The following seven steps can help you make sure your
workforce accommodation efforts promote an inclusive
STEP 1 See the Value
Employees can sense when company leaders are just going
through the motions, even if HR says all the right words.
“The biggest issue is a negative attitude toward accommodations,” says Linda Batiste, principal consultant with
Washington, D.C.-based Job Accommodation Network
(JAN). JAN is a free service of the U.S. Department of
Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy that fields
thousands of calls a year from employees and employers
dealing with accommodation requests.
“We can tell when [an employer] first starts talking
if they really don’t believe in making accommodations.
If that’s the case, it’s not going to work,” Batiste says.
Approaching requests from an adversarial position sets up
an “us versus them” environment that rarely ends well for
Negative views often spring from misinformation. “A
lot of employers think that accommodations are going
to be difficult to make and cost a lot,” Batiste says. But
JAN’s annual research shows that 59 percent of such modifications cost absolutely nothing, while the rest typically
amount to about $500.
“Accommodating employees in the workplace should
actually save employers money because the alternative, in
5 MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN HANDLING ADA ACCOMMODATION REQUESTS
Mistake No. 1
Assuming an adversarial stance.
Adopting an “us versus them” attitude
rarely works out well for either side.
Instead, focus on how the process can
support business goals such as improved
retention, injury prevention, and diversity
Mistake No. 2
Allowing front-line supervisors to
evaluate requests. Managers should be
trained to refer any employee requesting
accommodation to the designated HR
representative. Having one person or unit
responsible for handling accommodations
is the best way to ensure consistency
and legal compliance.
Mistake No. 3
Trying to prove the employee isn’t
disabled. The ADA Amendments Act
of 2008 broadened the definition of disability considerably. Legal experts say it
is very difficult to disprove an employee’s
disability claim. Instead, focus on evaluating the disability’s impact on the essential
job functions and the practicality of the
Mistake No. 4
Keeping it to yourself. Establish a confi-
dential file separate from the employee’s
personnel file, and document every con-
versation scrupulously. You should still
speak with the employee on the phone
or in person, but follow up with a written
memo and include it in the file. Be sure
to keep the employee informed of the
request’s progress; lack of communica-
tion leads to frustration and distrust.
Mistake No. 5
Closing the file. Even after a request
is approved and the accommodation
is implemented, follow up regularly to
ensure that the changes are working for
everyone involved. Set a regular schedule
for follow-up during the first year, and
make an accommodations check-in part
of the annual performance evaluation process going forward. Document all follow-up activities as they occur.
Source: Job Accommodation Network.
1 IN 5
U.S. ADULTS HAS
Source: Job Accommodation Network.