Open communication, policies necessary for disability accommodations

When an employer brings in an employee with a disability, it must be ready to make the appropriate accommodations that can help him or her succeed.

Two employees can have the same disability but require completely different accommodations, and determining what is necessary takes open communication and policies.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employer is required to make reasonable accommodations for any disability that inhibits an employee from performing his or her primary job functions, says Eric Peterson, manager of diversity and inclusion at the Society for Human Resource Management.

ADA defines reasonable accommodations as those that are affordable and do not impede others from doing their jobs.

While corporate counsel should be consulted to ensure legal responsibilities are met, a manager can make sure an employee with a disability is receiving appropriate accommodations by simply asking the employee what he or she needs, Peterson says.

However, this is often not done. Instead, the manager takes steps without consulting the employee in order to avoid what the manager thinks could be an awkward conversation. In the manager’s mind, this is doing the employee a favor, but the impact is actually the opposite.

“For the most part, people with disabilities are overwhelmingly not skittish about this topic,” Peterson says. “They are aware that they have a disability, and they would appreciate being approached rather than a manager saying, ‘I know how to handle this,’ as though the manager knows more about their disability than they do. It can be insulting when you proceed with an accommodation without checking in with the employee first, yet employers do this all the time.”

An employer should also consider setting up a central accommodations fund, Peterson suggests. With a central accommodations fund, a hiring manager can use that money rather than the department’s budget to accommodate employees with disabilities. Funding disabilities is typically less expensive than many managers anticipate, but some managers with cash-strapped budgets may feel that they cannot afford the necessary accommodations. Allotting for a central fund allows the manager to bring in the best employee for the job with fewer financial barrier getting in the way.

“You don’t want to the manager to be at a financial disadvantage for hiring the best people if those people happen to have disabilities,” Peterson says. “Removing those barriers for the hiring manager is always a good thing to do.”

As an employer can better accommodate employees with disabilities, it makes for a more diverse work force, Peterson says.

“Your employees will look around and say, ‘This is where I work, and these are the kinds of values we have. This is an organization that’s got their back and will probably have my back, too,” Peterson says. “When employees can see there’s evidence that people come first, it can go a long way.”

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