Today, more than ever, inclusively in the workplace is vital. Not only is it an ethical obligation, but it is also required by something called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although this has existed since 1990 (with some adjustments) many employers still have questions about how to fully comply with ADA requirements. Having a clear understanding of these requirements gives every individual the chance to reach his or her full potential while increasing organizational value as a whole.
The following covers a few of the essential points when it comes to ensuring ADA compliance.
1. Avoid Making Disability Assumptions
Disabilities are not always obvious. In fact, they may be invisible to the untrained eye. As an employer, you should never assume that someone doesn’t have a disability simply because it can’t be seen. Some disabilities are not easy to spot, but that doesn’t make them any less important when it comes to meeting ADA requirements.
Whenever an employee or job applicant mentions a physical or mental condition that might impact their work, you must treat them according to the ADA guidelines that the government has established. Ignoring one of your employee’s health problems because you don’t believe it is serious or important could potentially lead to legal action against your company.
2. Use the Official Process
Conforming to ADA requirements isn’t always easy, but the process for doing so is clearly laid out by the government. This process should be closely followed when determining an employee’s workplace disability needs, as well as when measures designed to assist the employee in the workplace are implemented. An employer should follow the official process when investigating an employee’s disability and whether reasonable accommodations can be made in the workplace for that disability.
Of course, reasonable accommodation means just that–reasonable. It does not mean the company has to bankrupt itself to hire employees with disabilities. Still, businesses that fail to follow the correct procedures leave themselves open to being legally challenged by current or former employees who feel they have been mistreated. Keep in mind that compliance with ADA regulations means more than just arriving at a solution that the employee (or employees) find fair and acceptable. It also means that a business has taken the correct legal route to arrive at a solution.
3. Document Everything
In addition to ensuring that your business has followed the rule of law and ADA regulations when it comes to addressing disability issues with employees, there must also be proof of such. The employer should fully document every step taken – even the seemingly insignificant ones.
This documentation means that if a lawsuit is filed against you in which employees or applicants for positions claim you discriminated against them by violating ADA regulations, you’ll have evidence to support your position that you were in fact in full compliance with the rules. This means documenting all the interactions you have with an employee regarding disability issues, even if it’s just a short conversation over the water cooler.
4. Treat Workers As Individuals
Workers with a disability should be treated as individuals. The rules underlying the ADA require that businesses avoid using a one-size-fits-all approach to deal with their employees with disabilities. Each case is unique and requires individualized solutions. Just because two of your employees have the exact same disability, doesn’t necessarily mean that their workplace needs will be identical as well.
For instance, there are disabilities that are progressive in nature, meaning that two employees with the same condition might be at different stages of that condition, requiring different accommodations. This is why it’s vital to listen to your employees you and to respond based on those conversations, instead of attempting to put in place a standard set of accommodations for that particular disability.
5. Remember Digital Accessibility
Not all accommodations involve changing an office space or purchasing equipment. Sometimes, a reasonable accommodation may mean modifying an employee’s schedule or moving their desk closer to natural light. It’s also critical to make sure that digital properties are accessible – not only so that your employees with disabilities can use them, but also so that they’re available to job seekers with disabilities. Your website, job portal, software, inter-office documents and even social media profiles should meet the technical requirements of the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). If you’re not sure if they do, have them evaluated by experts, adjusted if necessary, and periodically checked to confirm that they’re still in compliance with the ADA as these rules are updated.
6. Keep in mind the FMLA
Ensuring that you are in compliance with federal law when it comes to employment and disabilities can also mean making sure that you have fully complied with the FMLA: Family and Medical Leave Act.² FMLA provides employees – male and female – with the right to request leave from their job under certain circumstances.
Businesses are not allowed to simply terminate employees on the spot when they have to miss work because of family medical issues or their own pregnancy. In addition to this, employers are not allowed to dismiss employees who exceed the period of time allowed for their FMLA leave. Instead, employers have to carry out an ADA analysis to determine if the employee can be transferred to another position in the department or in the company that would be more suitable to their circumstances.
Ensuring that your company is fully in compliance with ADA requirements isn’t always easy. But it’s essential if you and your business would like to avoid any expensive courtroom battles in the future. By following the process laid out by the ADA and conscientiously communicating with employees or job applicants with disabilities, you can guarantee that your business is – and remains – ADA compliant. To learn more about how you can help your company meet today’s ADA requirements, request a demo from eSSENTIAL Accessibility today. We look forward to helping you meet the needs of ALL your employees and applicants.
- FMLA (Family & Medical Leave) United States Department of Labor, 2018
Editor’s Note: This post was updated in October 2019 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.