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Accommodating Employees with Disabilities – A HOW TO Guide.

HH BossHi readers, I am Karen Rehn, CEO of HH Staffing Services in Sarasota Florida. I have over 26 years of staffing experience and spend many hours a week consulting with our client and job seeking population. I blog daily on the hottest issues in your industries and work hard to spread my experiences with customers, college grads, job seekers, local businesses and organizations. Ask The Boss is a great outlet for our job seekers and customers to write in and ask direct questions to problems they are currently encountering. This weeks question is from a young and thriving business owner here in Bradenton Florida. He has never hired his own staff before and is wondering how he could prepare for hiring an employee with a disability. This is a great question – thanks for bringing up a great discussion topic.

People with disabilities make valuable contributions at work — if they are given the opportunity to do so. You’ve no doubt heard of federal and government laws providing those with disabilities certain rights which involve you, the employer, providing ‘reasonable accommodations.’ But what exactly does this mean? Let’s take a look. The main federal law governing the guidelines is called the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and it and similar state laws have changed the face of the American workforce by prohibiting discrimination against both employees and applicants, whenever possible.

So, Who Is Protected by the Guidelines?

The ADA protects those considered ‘qualified workers,’ which are defined as any worker who has the ability to perform most basic and necessary job duties, with or without some form of accommodation.

Workers who are qualified for protection under the ADA include the following:

  • Any worker with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. This could include the ability to talk, walk, see, hear, breathe without assistance, or be diagnosed with something like epilepsy where the individual is at risk for injury. Also included are those with major bodily function disorders, cancer, AIDS, respiratory disorders, asthma, and others. This is not a complete list. It only serves to provide some examples. For a full list of protected disabilities, check the ADA website.
  • Any worker with a record or history of impairment. In other words, you can’t make employment decisions based on your employee’s past disability. So, let’s say you are considering hiring a qualified employee with epilepsy. On their last job they fell and injured themselves. You cannot legally make any hiring decisions with this information in mind.
  • Workers with disabilities are also protected against being treated less favorably than others due to either a real or assumed disability.

When you’re thinking about the whole disability topic and wondering whether someone is legally disabled or not, always think ‘long term.’ For an impairment to be considered a legal disability, it must be long term. So, your pregnant receptionist or Tom in accounting who broke his arm last month are not qualified for protection under the disability act.

Tell Me About the ‘Reasonable Accommodation’ Part

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of employers get worried and start envisioning renovations and other improvements which will cost thousands of dollars. Slow down; here’s the real scoop on reasonable accommodations:

Accommodating a worker means providing assistance or making reasonable changes in the workplace that will enable the worker to properly perform their job. For example, an employer might be required to lower the height of a desktop for a wheelchair bound employee, provide TDD telephone equipment for an employee who is hearing impaired; or provide a quiet, distraction-free workspace for someone with attention deficit disorder.

How Do I Know What Accommodations to Make?

That’s not your responsibility. It is your employee’s duty to inform you of the disability and request a reasonable accommodation. Basically, you are not required to assume an employee would work more efficiently with a lower desktop. You are not legally required to guess at what might help the employee perform their job, but once the employee makes you aware of a disability, you must engage in what the law defines as a ‘flexible interactive process.’ What’s that? Bottom line, this is a brainstorming dialogue where you are responsible to speak with the employee, asking what changes, if any, might be helpful and practical. Also good to know, you are not required to give your employee the exact accommodation he or she requests, but you are responsible to work together towards a solution. This saves you from what’s referred to as ‘undue hardship.’

What is the Undue Hardship Exception?

As noted, you aren’t required to provide an accommodation if it would cause your business unreasonable hardship. For example, if the cost of a requested accommodation would cost several month’s profits, you don’t have to comply. You and the employee may have different opinions about what is reasonable and what would be an undue hardship. If you’re unsure where you stand, you may want to consult the ADA.

Are you currently looking for qualified permanent or temporary employees in Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Bradenton, or Clearwater? HH Staffing Services goes above and beyond to partner with each business we serve and to match your business with the right employee. We are like your personal HR department, taking care of headhunting and prospecting for key employees, checking references, conducting background checks, skill assessments, and the initial interview process. If you need to fill a professional position quickly, we’re here for you.

Please remember Karen Rehn’s blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In allinstances where harassment, inequity or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or Legal. Do you have a problem? We want to hear from you! jobs@hhstaffingservices.com. Email us today!

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