Reasonable Accommodations: A Business Necessity

 

As our population ages and older workers begin to deal with health issues that may make them more prone to being hurt on the job, employers are finding themselves faced with an increased need to accommodate injured workers. It’s not a matter of doing the right thing, it’s the law. Not a choice but a business necessity.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employers with more than 15 employees. It places a great deal of responsibility on the employer to accommodate applicants and workers with conditions that limit their ability to perform essential job functions unless doing so would create an “undue hardship” for the business entity. Generally, the larger an organization and the deeper its resources, the more difficult it is for a company to claim that a requested accommodation creates a hardship.

Just about any condition that substantially limits a life activity now protects an employee under the ADA. It affects hiring practices – the ADA now impacts employers in both their hiring and employment practices – but also defines how an organization manages its employees injured at work.

Sometimes employers refuse to accommodate an injured worker’s return to a modified position, demanding the worker wait until all their duties can be performed. This approach is no longer acceptable under the amended ADA and can generate intervention and fines by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency that oversees ADA violations. Employment actions taken by employees or the EEOC are expensive to defend and are not covered under an organization’s general liability coverage.

The EEOC is diligent in its pursuit of disabled workers rights. As recently as December 2012, the EEOC filed a lawsuit alleging a woman was wrongfully fired because she had a prosthetic leg. The case is currently in the courts.

It is now a business necessity to make reasonable accommodations, defined in the ADA as follows: “In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.”

Here is a partial list of some accommodations you can make to ensure injured workers return to productivity and you do not violate the ADA.

  • Modifications to the work environment like purchasing ergonomic equipment or rearranging how and when the job is performed. For example, you may change work hours to allow an employee who is on medication to arrive later.
  • Providing access to your facility so that someone with a disability may apply for a position.
  • Providing the employee with readers or interpreters.
  • Job restructuring or reassignment.
  • Allowing an employee to work from home when feasible.

In March 2012, the federal government introduced updates to the ADA that included changes to further remove barriers and that may affect employers planning new construction in 2013 and on.

Note that this is a very basic discussion of the ADA and its updates. For specific advice, contact your employment lawyer or other ADA expert.