By Suzette Wilson
Special to GUIDON
Each October, Americans celebrate the need for inclusion in employment and the contributions of workers with disabilities. This year marks not only the 75th observance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but also the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Title I of the ADA requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.
Reasonable accommodation is any change to a job, the work environment or the way things are usually done that allows an individual with a disability to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal employment opportunities access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace.
Reasonable accommodations must be provided to qualified employees regardless of whether they work full-time or part-time, or are considered probationary. When an accommodation is not obvious, an appropriate accommodation is best determined through a flexible, interactive process.
Step No. 1
The interactive process starts with an accommodation request from an employee with a disability, so it is important for employers to be able to recognize a request. An employer’s duty to provide a reasonable accommodation is not initiated unless the employee requests it. The employee is not required to use the specific words “reasonable accommodation.”
Anytime an employee indicates they are having a problem and the problem is related to a medical condition, the employer should consider whether the employee is making a request for an accommodation. Rather, the employee or a third party, such as the employee’s doctor may request some type of workplace change or adjustment and connect that request to a medical condition.
Step No. 2
Once an employee has submitted an accommodation request, the employer should gather necessary information to process the request. Necessary information may include documentation of the disability and need for accommodation. In some cases, the employee’s disability and need for accommodation are obvious and no additional information is needed.
An employer, in response to a request for reasonable accommodation, cannot ask for documentation that is unrelated to determining the existence of a disability and the necessity for an accommodation. An employer cannot request a person’s complete medical record because they are likely to contain information unrelated to the disability at issue and the need for
If an individual has more than one disability, an employer can request information pertaining only to the disability that requires a reasonable accommodation. The employer must know what limitations are interfering with job performance and what specific work tasks are at issue.
Step No. 3
Once the employer has identified the employee’s limitation that is causing a problem and has identified what the issues are, the employer and the employee should explore ideas. The process requires flexibility, and options are not limited to physical changes to the work environment, temporary reassigning of marginal job duties, temporary transfer to a different position or modifying work schedules or shift assignments.
If the employer requires more information, then the employer should immediately contact the FLW Disability Program manager at 573.596.8048. The employer may also consult with Civilian Personnel Advisory Center or Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.
Remember when consulting with outside resources, employers must comply with the confidentiality rules of AR 690-12, appendix C, pararaph C-8. One good approach, if possible, is to withhold the employee’s name and identifying information from outside resources.
Step No. 4
Once accommodation options have been explored, the employer must choose what accommodation to implement. If there is more than one option, the employer may consider the preference of the employee. However, the employer may also choose an alternate accommodation. Employers must document the accommodation or the lack thereof in a memorandum with the employee.
The memorandum and all subsequent documents will be processed through the Fort Leonard Wood Disability Program manager within procedures and guidelines.
Step No. 5
Monitoring the accommodation is key to success. It is important to continue the interactive process once the accommodations are in place.
In some cases, an accommodation may become ineffective for various reasons such as: the employee’s limitations change, workplace equipment changes, the job changes, the workplace itself changes or the accommodation becomes an undue hardship for the employer. Because changes occur, employers may need to periodically check on the ongoing effectiveness of accommodations.
If equipment is involved in the accommodation, someone may need to be assigned to perform maintenance or upgrades as needed. The most important way to monitor accommodations is to encourage ongoing communication.
Employees who are receiving accommodations must understand that they should let their employers know if there are changes or problems with the accommodation and who to contact.
For more information, call the Fort Leonard Wood Equal Employment Opportunity Office at 573.596.8048.
(Editor’s note: This article was submitted to the GUIDON by the Fort Leonard Wood EEO office.)