many cases, is putting the employee on leave, and many
[employers] have short-term disability policies,” says Joan
E. Casciari, a partner at Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth
A solid process can also protect a business from employee
injuries (e.g., Sodexo restricting the cook with a seizure
disorder from climbing), lawsuits and Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charges. “To litigate
one of these claims will cost 10 or 20 times the amount
that it would have cost the employer to adequately fund the
HR department” to assess and document and provide these
requests, Mook says.
There are also less tangible, but no less important, benefits for the corporate culture. “From a retention perspective, when you’re able to show people that you truly care,
that they’re able to bring their true selves to work, that’s
valuable,” says Dawnita Wilson, the Gaithersburg, Md.-based director of global diversity and inclusion at Sodexo.
“It contributes to an inclusive culture and environment,
allowing people to be open about what their needs are.”
STEP 2 Put It in Writing
Make sure you have a formal policy on workplace accommodations. Key points that the document should cover
• Basic information on the ADA. Don’t assume employees
know their rights. Explain the statute in broad terms, but
avoid outlining examples of what would and would not be
approved. “It all depends on specific facts of the situation,”
Mook says. “You can’t check off the boxes.” Getting too
specific in the written policy could come back to bite you if
an employee later contests a denial.
• Guidelines for submitting a request. Gather accommodation request information from an employee, preferably in
a face-to-face meeting with an HR representative. Requiring employees to submit a request form is fine, but it is no
substitute for talking in person or by phone. This exchange
is known as the “interactive process,” and, in some jurisdictions, failure to engage in it is an independent violation
of the law, Casciari says. Be sure to collect information on
the challenges the employee is having on the job and any
accommodations that he or she suggests. Documentation
from an employee’s doctor may not be necessary. It can be
requested later if needed.
• The appropriate point of contact. It’s best to designate
one person or unit in the HR department to receive and
manage all accommodation requests. “They should not
be handled ad hoc by a supervisor,” Mook says. “I suggest
that the HR person speak directly with the employee” and
get the info from him or her. This approach provides more
consistency and ensures that HR is apprised of all related
• Communication standards. Explain what, when and
STEP 3 Get Job Descriptions in Order
how HR will communicate with the employee about his or
her request. (See Step 6: Document and Communicate.) Set-
ting expectations at the beginning of the process could help
reduce employees’ apprehension and cut down on unneces-
sary phone calls and e-mails.
A job description is the template for determining “
essential job functions,” which are in turn what the EEOC and
courts use to consider what constitutes “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship” under the law. “
Generally speaking, an employer is not required to remove
essential functions from a job or create a job for a person
who is unable to perform the essential functions of his or
her position,” Casciari says.
Job descriptions should be as specific as possible, tailored to your organization and updated periodically to
ensure accuracy. Make sure new hires attest that they have
read and received a copy of their job description during
onboarding, experts say, and advise managers to review
job descriptions with employees as part of their annual performance evaluation. Ask employees to provide feedback
on their essential job functions each year, make any necessary changes and have them sign the document. “The job
description should be an evolving document,” Mook says.
STEP 4 Train, Train, Train
Even the best procedures are of no use if managers and staff
don’t know about them. Accommodation policies should be
part of onboarding training, and managers and supervisors
should understand how to recognize and react to employees’ needs.
“One of the major mistakes we see is that front-line
supervisors are not properly
trained,” Batiste says.
At Sodexo, ADA accommodations are covered as
part of the employer’s “
disabilities in the workplace”
training, and front-line managers and supervisors receive
additional instruction. “We
encourage ongoing diversity
training,” Wilson says.
Other points managers and supervisors need to
• Even a casual conversation between employee and
supervisor can qualify as “awareness” under the ADA.
“Even if the procedures say ‘go talk to HR,’ an informal
request is enough to trigger the employer’s responsibility,”
ARE NOT EASILY
Source: Job Accommodation Network.