With the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008, many employers are left sifting through overlapping laws and regulations that leave them with more questions than answers. An employee’s disability may vary from person to person, and as such, their unique needs to be met following federal law.
In accordance with the ADA, what constitutes a disability is an individual who has a physical, or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. The disability may be invisible or visible, but are not limited to hearing or visual impairments, cerebral palsy, psychological disabilities, heart disease, cancer, acquired brain injuries, muscular dystrophy, and attention deficit disorder. Even if the condition affects them infrequently, and even if it only in their past, they may still be a person with a disability and entitled to protection under the law.
Set Up a Defined Process
Employers need to detail, as well as review and update, their reasonable accommodations and disability policies. If necessary, those involved in implementing it need to receive training on said policy, and it must be clearly communicated to the employees.
It is crucial to train employees how to deal with specific disabilities such as the hearing impaired, or the blind. While simple software can greatly improve accessibility to, say, the hearing impaired, it may be necessary to train an employee in ASL interpretation, or hire an already trained interpreter.
A centralized fund should be established to cover accommodation costs for which the company is financially responsible for. This can be used for assistive devices, alternate reading formats like braille, customized software, flexible schedules, adapted furniture, or even workstation modifications.
Aside from the regulations already enacted through legislation, it remains up to the employer to consult official requirements and guidelines to ensure company policies flow with the standards. When purchasing or licensing software, even furniture or workspace tables, it’s also important to consider whether or not it’s accessibility compliant.
Time is of the Essence
It is imperative and critical to make timely reasonable accommodations to disabled employees who request them. Federal agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission look at response times in acknowledging a request, as well as whether or not the employer has implemented solutions within a reasonable time frame.
Documentation is Key
Ensure that the employer preserves and maintains records sent to each employee, as well as benefits, employer handbooks describing their policies and practices regarding leaves, as well as any correspondence disputing leave designations or extensions. Phone conversations and meetings also must be documented. A lack of documentation will make a particular case hard to defense, and it also gives the appearance that the employer lacks the drive to follow compliance.
Encourage Employees to Invest in Disability Insurance
Whether you run a cushy office gig or a back-breaking construction or landscaping business, there’s always the possibility that perfectly healthy employees may get injured or develop some other disability that interferes with their ability to perform their duties. These things can happen on the job, on the way to work, or at home. As a good leader, you want to take care of your team, and you wouldn’t want to compound the tragedy of a sudden disability by cutting off a valued team member from desperately-needed income. This is where disability insurance can make a huge difference! You should do everything in your power to convince employees to invest in this vital protection. If company resources allow, consider providing it as a benefit. Simon Sinek says “When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first…remarkable things happen.” Help employees feel that you have their back–it will transform your business and it’s the right thing to do.
While it may feel overwhelming at first, having a plan will go a long way. Becoming disability compliant is both rewarding to the company and those they employ; it will keep employees on the job for the long-term.