October 2016, Vol. 2

Ensuring ADA compliance for workplace requests

By Matthew Levitt

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for a qualified employee with a disability. A qualified employee with a disability means an employee who meets the minimum qualifications of the position and is able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Handling a request from an employee for a workplace accommodation is an important issue that must be handled correctly by all district staff. Following are some guidelines and reminders to help ensure legal and effective management of ADA accommodations.

The accommodation request

  • The request does not need to be written; an initial request for an accommodation can be verbal, written, or even from a third party (e.g., a note from the employee’s doctor). An employee simply needs to state that he or she needs an accommodation.
  • The employee does not need to use the words “reasonable accommodation” nor does the employee need to specifically refer to the ADA.
  • The employee’s accommodation request can be made to the employee’s supervisor, any manager in the employee’s chain of command, human resources, or other central office administrator.
  • Under limited circumstances, the district may need to initiate the accommodation process even if the employee has not requested an accommodation. The district must initiate the accommodation process if it:
    • Knows that the employee has a disability,
    • Knows, or has reason to know, that the employee is experiencing workplace problems because of the disability, and
    • Knows, or has reason to know, that the disability prevents the employee from requesting a reasonable accommodation.

Responding to a request

  • Because of potential ambiguity resulting from the bullets above, it is extremely important that all district supervisors be trained on the ADA. Specifically, they should be trained to:
    • Recognize potential ADA accommodation requests,
    • NOT unilaterally make a determination if a disability exists or if a reasonable accommodation is required, and
    • Quickly refer potential accommodation requests to the District’s ADA coordinator.
  • Once an accommodation request is received by the district’s ADA coordinator, the district should immediately engage in the “interactive process” with the employee. The interactive process entails the following steps:
    • Gather information, including a) analyze the employee’s position to accurately determine the purpose of the position and the essential job functions; and b) work with the employee to determine if he/she has a disability, and if so, identify barriers to the employee performing the essentials job function(s) due to the disability.
    • Identify various accommodation options.
    • Evaluate possible accommodation options and make a final accommodation determination.
  • While not mandatory, input from the employee’s direct supervisor is often helpful in ensuring a collaborative decision making process.

Providing an accommodation

  • Once an accommodation request is determined,
    • Make sure the accommodation is implemented promptly and thoroughly, and
    • Communicate with supervisors about the accommodation, as needed. ADA confidentiality rules, however, only let managers and supervisors know about the accommodation if necessary.
  • When providing a reasonable accommodation, the district is not required to do any of the following:
    • Remove essential job functions from the position,
    • Create a new position specifically for the employee making the accommodation request,
    • Provide personal use items needed in accomplishing daily activities both on and off the job, such as glasses, a wheel chair, or hearing aids,
    • Hire or provide an additional permanent employee specifically for supporting the employee to do the job. A temporary job coach, however, may be a reasonable accommodation,
    • Provide transportation for the employee to or from work, or
    • Provide the employee’s desired accommodation, if multiple accommodation solutions are available.
For further information, TASB HR Services has a recorded webinar entitled “Accommodating Disabilities in the Workplace” available at no charge for all HR Services members.