As a business owner, you are responsible for adhering to certain laws regarding the rights of your employees. That includes proper accommodation for disabled employees. By following the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and other acts such as the Rehabilitation Act and Fair Employment and Housing Act, you can ensure that you are providing reasonable accommodation to the disabled at your workplace and not infringing on the rights that they are privileged to. Failure to provide reasonable accommodation could result in a disability discrimination lawsuit against your business.
“Reasonable accommodation” does not mean giving preferential treatment to disabled employees, but giving them the means necessary to be able to perform as well as their able-bodied colleagues. Examples of these accommodations would be offering disabled parking right by the building, having reading materials printed in Braille for blind or visually impaired people and offering modifications to the job function that are within reason. Proper accommodations should not require any extensive overhaul of how the job is performed in order to accommodate a disabled employee.
Types of Disabilities
Disabilities covered by the ADA range in type. Examples of physical disabilities include loss of mobility that necessitates the use of a wheelchair, loss of limbs and diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Mental disorders include major depression, autism and schizophrenia. Chronic diseases and conditions include cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and HIV infection.
Any employee with a disability that needs accommodation to perform their job successfully will need to submit an accommodation request. There is no official format or guidelines for these requests, but they should be easy to parse and be specific in their intent. The accommodation request can be made orally or in writing and should be properly handed to by whoever receives it first and designated to the proper figure if necessary. As an employer, you can choose a specific person to handle these accommodation requests. Other employees should have some training for handling accommodation requests if they receive them.
Each accommodation request should be reviewed carefully and discuss any questions or elaboration needed from the requester. As an employer, you will need to ask as many questions as you feel necessary in order to offer proper accommodation. The requester will need to be as specific as possible about what kinds of accommodations they need. A disabled employee should be able to offer information regarding their requirements, but as an employer, you should be educated about typical accommodations needed for disabled people in the workplace. The limitations of the disabled employee and the extent to which they need accommodation should be determined in order to move forward properly.
Sometimes, further information might be required, particularly if an employee’s disability is not readily apparent. As an employer, you have the right to request medical information pertaining to the employee’s condition that helps you to determine what kind of accommodation they need. This information can also provide information about the severity of the condition, such as whether it is going to stay stable for the foreseeable future or whether it is liable to worsen over time, and therefore require further accommodation. Any medical information received must be kept confidential by those who receive it.
A workplace with disabled employees will be required to have structures in place that accommodate the disabled employees. These include things like handicapped parking spots and wheelchair accessible entry. For private employers, these are only required on the basis of an employee or applicant needing such access. However, if you are an employer who is making modifications to or constructing a new public or commercial facility, then you will be required to meet requirements for accessibility as listed in Titles II and III of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Responding to Requests
When a request for accommodation has been received, an employer should take the proper response measures right away. All necessary steps should be followed and the request should be fulfilled no later than 30 days after it is made. If the need for accommodation is already clear when the employee applies or begins working, then the request should be fulfilled in a much shorter time span.