Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. Indeed, failure to provide an accommodation is considered a form of disability discrimination and can open the business to potential legal claims. So how do you know when you need to provide such an accommodation?
Let’s take a look at this example.
During a conversation about consistently showing up late for work, an employee tells his manager that he is finds it challenging to arrive to work on time because of his sleep apnea. He doesn’t sleep well at night and cannot seem to wake up on time. He adds that his doctor is evaluating him for drugs that could potentially help him. Is this a request for an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? In general, the answer is probably yes, and the employer could face a potential disability discrimination claim if the request is ignored. Once determined to be an accommodation request by the employee, an interactive process must begin to determine what accommodation might be reasonable.
How do you know when an employee is merely sharing a story or making a request? Indeed, to kick off the interactive process, the employee does not even have to specifically mention the ADA or state that he is requesting a “reasonable accommodation.” So how can an employer possibly monitor these types of employee requests and comply with the ADA? The answer is likely situation dependent and an experienced employment attorney would be able to assist.
Generally speaking, there are two ways an employer can minimize ADA missteps when it comes to providing reasonable accommodations to employee requests. First, the employer should review its employee handbook (more on that here) and ensure that its ADA policy includes a clear-cut process for how an employee should request an ADA accommodation. Based on a few recent court decisions, it appears that once an employer has established a fixed set of procedures to request accommodations, an employee’s failure to follow this procedure could preclude a claim for failure to accommodate.
Second, be clear with supervisors and managers. Even if the company has a clear policy for accommodation requests in place, it also should make it clear to managers and supervisors that when an employee who is trying to justify performance issues makes comments about his or her medical condition, such comments are potentially an accommodation request. Therefore, supervisors and managers are to immediately refer any such circumstance to human resources, in order to handle the interactive process.
Handling ADA accommodation requests can be complicated. For more information on how to handle ADA requests, contact attorney Drew E. Pomerance today.