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Communication, Documentation, Accommodation: Navigating ADA Requests
by Ann Potratz

Between 2006 and 2018, the number of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaints submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) increased from 15,864 to 24,605.

While there are many reasons for the increase (including a 2008 amendment to the Act, an aging workforce, and easier access to information about employee rights), the numbers should alarm even the most accommodating workplace.

With vague terms like “interactive process,” “reasonable accommodation,” and “undue hardship,” the law itself can feel impossible to pin down, but a few key steps can take it from downright daunting to mostly manageable.

Get it in writing
Uncertainty has no place in managing ADA accommodations. Any conversations or communications regarding the subject should be documented immediately. It’s easy to assume you’ll remember the finer points in the moment, but things can get hazy six months later when an employee recalls things differently.

Remember: Any documentation regarding employee medical conditions must be stored separately from other personnel files and should remain confidential.

Encourage honest communication
As with so many things, the best approach to managing an ADA accommodation request is honest, open dialogue. Not only is it recommended by the EEOC, employees will appreciate the respect. To begin the interactive process, ask your employee one simple question: “What do you need to be successful at your job?”

These conversations can be delicate for all parties depending on the nature of the issue, so it’s important to remain professional yet empathetic. Let the employee know your primary goal is to find a solution that benefits everyone while maintaining your employee’s dignity. Keep your language simple and clear, using words like “options” instead of “reasonable accommodations.”

Accommodations don’t have to be costly
Initially, accommodating an employee’s disability may trigger thoughts of pricey technology and investments in infrastructure, but that is often not the case. Acceptable solutions can be as simple as hanging curtains to reduce computer glare for a migraine sufferer or making a one-time modification to desk height to accommodate an individual who uses a wheelchair.

According to employers participating in an ongoing study by the Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network, 59 percent of successful accommodations cost $0. Of the remaining 41 percent that did have a cost, the average one-time expenditure by employers was $500 or less.

Key to remember: While an employer is not obligated to adopt an employee’s preferred accommodation request without question, give any request serious consideration. Taking your employees’ needs seriously will keep everyone moving toward the same goal.
 
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