Reasonable Accommodations for Employees with Disabilities: What You Need to Know

March 4, 2019

Over the past few years, Massachusetts has experienced major legislative shifts that directly affect the human resources strategies of every business, big or small.

Stemming from the recently passed Grand Bargain Act, these legal changes all work toward the goal of improving overall working conditions for employees. While your human resources professionals may still be scrambling to navigate the changes in minimum wage, family-medical leave, and holiday pay, it is vital that your HR staff does not forget the needs of employees with disabilities.

Here is everything you need to know about reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

Remaining in Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is not new by any means, but it is important to remember that a cultural shift toward better working conditions for all employees should also carefully consider what this entails for employees with differing needs.

The ADA ensures that no employee is discriminated against due to a disability. Furthermore, this protection against discrimination does not begin and end at a hiring interview. Compliance with the ADA means that each employer strives to ensure that employees with disabilities have the proper accommodations to complete daily operations to the best of their abilities.

From entrance to exit, it is paramount that your human resources practices remain in compliance with the ADA. Not only could failure to comply result in a costly lawsuit, but it also sends the message to your community and employees that your supervisory staff has little regard for the needs of their employees.

While empowering every employee to achieve a high caliber of work performance through accommodations is a key component of the ADA, employers do have a number of rights to ensure that businesses can run properly.

Primarily, each employee must be able to fulfill the essential job functions to qualify for on-the-job accommodations. As an employer, you don’t have to fear that your daily operations will be left incomplete. Rather, there may simply be a few necessary modifications to the methods by which they are completed.

Determining Accommodations

When determining accommodations for employees, it is important to consider that not all disabilities manifest in the same way.

Some employees with disabilities will need accommodations such as the installment of a wheelchair ramp if your business does not already have one, or a raised desk.

These sorts of accommodations typically mean that specialized equipment and materials will need to be purchased.

Other modifications may also include the use of a translator or interpreter, which may involve hiring another employee or contracting with an outside agency.

Consider how you will fund these purchases. The ADA does specify that businesses that cannot bear the financial burden of a certain modification are exempt from responsibility in certain cases. There are, however, some accommodations that do not require a financial contribution from employers at all.

Additionally, it may be necessary that an employee’s work schedule be modified to accommodate medical treatments or that they are given more time to complete certain tasks.

All of these accommodations will empower your employees to best perform their jobs and ensure that employers are not subject to any direct financial burden.

Implementing Accommodations  

When implementing accommodations, here are a few factors to keep in mind:

Privacy

While some disabilities may be visible to other staff members, other disabilities may require more discretion. Be sure to not violate an employee’s privacy when providing accommodations.

Preparation

Some accommodations may be time sensitive and require strict time management. For example, an employee with narcolepsy (an invisible disability you may not have considered) may require a 10-to-15 minute tardiness allowance around their morning work hours as an accommodation. A wise employer would ensure that their scheduled time overlaps with another employee to avoid any gaps in staff.

Maintenance

As much as any person changes over time, it is quite possible that an employee’s need for accommodation might change. It is also possible that an employee may need more accommodations as a condition progresses, fewer accommodations as they master a task, or simply different accommodations over time. Regardless of how the accommodations change, it is vital that your human resources development strategies adjust with the varying needs of your employees with disabilities.

Learning how to manage the needs of any employee can be difficult, but sufficiently accommodating employees with disabilities is key to properly empowering your whole staff to reach its potential.
For more information on how to navigate this complicated human resources challenge, call the HR experts at Commonwealth Payroll & HR today at (978) 599-1500.

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