by Frank J. Godfrey III
Let’s be honest: employment laws and regulations often intimidate business owners. This is an understandable response. Most business owners spend their days trying to serve their customers and keep their businesses on a successful track. It often seems there is not enough time in the day to accomplish those daily goals, so the last thing business owners want to think of are laws and regulations that appear to add another obstacle to achieving success.
Let’s consider an alternative perspective. What if business owners could use employment laws and regulations as additional tools to achieve success, rather than being intimidated?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides a good example of this. The ADA includes an obligation for business owners to consider and discuss potential accommodations to allow an employee with a disability to continue working and contributing to business success. This discussion is referred to as an interactive process. The conversation should be candid and honest, and in most cases will quickly identify whether a reasonable accommodations is necessary and possible.
For example, during the discussion, the business owner may learn that the employee has an illness that qualifies as an ADA covered condition. That condition may require regular visits to the employee’s medical provider that can be addressed through a simple scheduling change. Or they may discover that an employee has a covered condition that justifies additional meal or rest breaks. Providing these additional breaks may be simple adjustments that allow an otherwise productive employee to continue working.
When it comes to the ADA and an employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation, there are simple steps business owners can take now to prepare for and effectively manage their way through a future interactive process:
- Review your handbook and confirm you have a disability accommodation policy that explains the interactive process and obligations of the business owner and employee.
- Make sure your managers and supervisors understand the disability accommodation policy and legal obligations the company must follow.
- Make sure the interactive process is a positive, collaborative discussion focused on the particular employee’s requested accommodation. Keep in mind, each employee requesting a reasonable accommodation will present their own unique facts and circumstances. Avoid taking a “one size fits all” approach.
- Document the interactive process and all discussions and actions taken with regard to the employee’s requested accommodation.
- Follow up with the employee who is provided a reasonable accommodation to ensure the accommodation provided is working for the employee and employer. Also keep in mind, the employee’s covered condition may change over time, necessitating additional reasonable accommodations.
- Contact your attorney as soon as an employee requests an accommodation or you believe an employee has a medical condition that prohibits them from performing their duties. Your attorney can advise you on all related issues including confidentiality obligations, documentation matters and what you can and cannot ask your employee during the interactive process.
Of course, business owners may encounter accommodation requests that cannot be met for various reasons. While the requesting employee will probably not be happy with that result, it is more likely than not they will appreciate the business owner having the discussion and attempting to work with them through a difficult issue. Employees who believe they were treated fairly by their employers are far less likely to file lawsuits. And other employees will appreciate that the business owner cares enough to work through these types of difficult issues with their workers. This is an added benefit that can help business owners continue on their path to success.