Every employee handbook should have a policy preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. These policies generally cover several protected groups including individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, employers need to take their handbook one step further and create a policy that addresses accommodations in the workplace for disabled applicants and employees.
During our recent Master Series in April, we highlighted several policies that should be contained in every handbook including an ADA accommodations policy. Here are the terms you should have in your accommodations policy:
- The policy should be directed toward “qualified individuals with disabilities.” Under the ADA, a qualified individual with a disability is a person that meets the legitimate skill, experience, education or other requirements of the employment position and can perform the “essential functions” of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.
- The policy should confirm that the employer will provide reasonable accommodations to disabled applicants or employees if the accommodation would allow the individual to perform the essential functions of his or her job, unless doing so would create an undue hardship.
- The policy should advise the employee that he or she is responsible for requesting a reasonable accommodation. Employers are only required to make reasonable accommodations for known physical and mental impairments. An employee does not need to use the magic words “reasonable accommodation,” but must disclose that: (1) he or she has a disability that creates work-related limitations; and (2) an accommodation is needed in order to do the job.
- The policy should identify the specific individual or position to contact regarding accommodations. At a minimum, the specific job title should be referenced in the policy (e.g., Human Resources Manager or Safety Director).
- The procedures for requesting an accommodation should be clearly stated in the policy including the requirement that requests be submitted in writing. It is strongly recommended that the policy direct the employee to submit the following information in writing: (1) the reason the employee believes he or she needs an accommodation including a statement of the limitations and restrictions imposed by the disability; (2) the job duties or assignments the employee is having difficulty performing; (3) a description of the accommodations requested by the employee; and (4) a statement as to how accommodations will help the individual perform his or her essential functions. All of this information will be fully discussed during the interactive process.
- The policy should confirm that the employer has the right to request medical information concerning the employee’s disability and need for an accommodation. Any medical information received as a result of a request for a reasonable accommodation should be kept confidential and maintained in a separate file.
Once a request for an accommodation is received pursuant to the employer’s policy, the interactive process must be initiated with the employee to fully explore accommodations in the workplace. When questions surface regarding requests for accommodations or an employer’s legal obligations, it is recommended that employment counsel should be contacted at the outset to provide guidance regarding the process.