In order to ensure that everyone receives equal opportunities in maintaining successful employment, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) puts forth legislation that offers guidance for restaurants and other businesses in providing reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
Employers often have questions surrounding whether an employee is “disabled” as defined by the ADA, whether the employee can perform the “essential functions” of the job with accommodation, and if such accommodation would subject the employer to “undue” hardship. While this law can be complex, we’ll outline the basic premise of it below and provide an easy-to-follow checklist for employers to follow too.
Types of Accommodations
The ADA defines “reasonable accommodations” as “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions” provided that such accommodation would not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
Examples of reasonable accommodations may include:
- Time off for treatment or care related to the disability (FMLA may apply too);
- Modifying work schedules (i.e. shorter shifts, fewer days, etc.);
- Modifying the workspace or moving to a different space entirely;
- Altering how or when job duties and functions are performed (though generally not eliminating any job duties or functions);
- Hiring staff assistants or readers to support employees in their role and function;
- Providing accessible parking and restrooms; and
- Providing communications equipment and materials in alternative formats such as Braille and large print.
Reasonable Accommodations Checklist
Since the ADA reasonable accommodations legislation applies to private employers with 15 or more employees, it’s an expansive law that affects many. To ensure compliance, follow this simple checklist:
1. Establish a standardized process or form. Employees can make an accommodation request either orally or in writing and requests can be made at any point in the application process, interviewing and hiring stage, or after employment begins. If the request is made orally by the employee, managers should document the request in writing or request that the employee does so.
2. Train managers. Conduct ongoing training for managers so that they understand how to accept a request, the steps to take after receiving one, and the implications of non-compliance.
3. Educate applicants and employees. Provide written documentation to applicants and employees about their right to request reasonable accommodations as well as the process to follow.
4. Acting on a request. Once the request is made and the disability is “known” to the employer, action is critical. The employer should meet with the employee and seek advice from outside experts, if needed, in order to fulfill the request. While legislation does not mandate a specific timeframe, accommodations should be made as quickly as possible so long as the request does not impose undue hardship on the employer. Be aware that excessive or unnecessary delays may snowball into a potentially litigious HR violation.
5. Communicate and document. Keep communication lines open with the employee throughout the process so that you can be responsive to their needs. Maintain detailed documentation of each step along the way in order to support your compliance efforts.
Like I mentioned before, this is a very basic overview of a complex law. The process for providing reasonable accommodations isn’t always clear-cut and there are numerous gray areas, so if you have additional questions, or need legal assistance in any way, please reach out to Patrick Wartan, attorney at Taft.