A Broader Definition of Disability
Disability in the workplace coupled with recent ADA regulations has captured the attention of employers nationwide. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), which went into effect in 2009, the term “disability” was broadened, making it easier for individuals to establish a medical condition and receive protection under federal law.
The definition of “disability” will be construed broadly under the law.
The primary objective of the ADAAA ruling is to protect employees or applicants against disability discrimination. Under the law, an employer must try to accommodate that individual to ensure equal employment opportunities. However, it can be difficult for employers to determine what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” and whether they have met their legal obligations under the ADA.
Risks of Non-Compliance
The consequences of not complying with ADA regulations can be serious. Employers sued for ADA disability discrimination claims may be exposed to back pay, front pay, reinstatement, attorney fees (and related costs) and restored benefits. And, even if the employer wins an ADA case, litigation can be costly.
ADA claims and benefits are on the rise: The number of ADA charges received by the EEOC hit record highs in 2010 and 2011, as did the monetary benefits.
Navigating the “New” ADA
Now more than ever, employers must be prepared to respond to individual accommodation requests, provide accommodations when needed and avoid making discriminatory decisions. This means digging deeper than ever before to comply with the law.
Among other requirements, the ADA mandates that an employer determine:
- Whether an employee’s accommodation request is reasonable.
- If accommodations can be provided without undue hardship.
- If there are other effective accommodations that should be considered.
Follow a Consistent, Individualized Approach
Because each case must be evaluated on an individual basis, employers often apply this four-step process to accommodation requests to determine whether they are reasonable under ADA guidelines:
- Describe job function.
- Identify precise job-related limits posed by the disability in consultation with the employee.
- Brainstorm with the employee about potential accommodations that may help him/her overcome job-related limitations.Select the accommodation that is appropriate for both the employer and employee.
“The primary focus under the ADA is whether employers have complied with their obligations and whether discrimination has occurred, not whether an individual’s impairment substantially limits a major life activity.”
Take Steps to be ADA-Compliant
Successfully navigating the law’s inherent complexities requires employers to be conversant in ADA/ADAAA compliance. Here are some steps employers can take to help comply.
- Adopt robust ADA accommodation policies.
Review and update discrimination and reasonable accommodation policies to ensure legal compliance. Employer documents and employee handbooks should include the ADA definition of disability and explain each party’s role in reasonable accommodation
- Define job functions.
Employers should regularly review job descriptions to ensure all essential functions of the position are reflected and are consistent with the needs of the business. Publishing accurate, current job descriptions provides an effective way to meet ADA requirements and can help reduce liability exposure.
- Train managers and supervisors.
Managers and supervisors with direct reports should receive adequate training on the ADA and the regulations in order to respond appropriately to disability mentions and accommodation requests. This includes governing requests of medical records.
- Designate an ADA point person.
Designate an employee proficient in ADA/ADAAA regulation to administer employees’ accommodation requests. This can help safeguard against incorrectly denying an accommodation request, which can lead to a discrimination suit.
- Document all discussions and decisions.
It’s important that employers keep accurate records of events and actions to demonstrate that a good-faith effort to accommodate an employee was made.
Utilize ADA-Related Resources
There’s no denying that meeting the obligations of the ADA can be challenging, but there are resources to help. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides employers with one-on-one guidance on the ADA and workplace accommodations. JAN does not provide legal advice. Therefore, it’s critical that employers consult with legal counsel regarding policies and practices that may leave them vulnerable to risks.
“The more American employers understand how to comply with the ADAAA, the less confusion and misunderstanding there will be over workplace accommodations--and that’s a win-win for everyone.”
The Hartford does not provide legal advice related to ADA compliance. The information contained herein is not to be construed as legal advice and is informational only. For legal advice, please contact the counsel of your choice.