BusinessWest Online (02/28/12) Karina L. Schrengohst
Employers can find it difficult to navigate the requirements of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. Employees may not specifically state that they need accommodation for their disability, and they are not legally required to reference ADA or use the words “disability” or “reasonable accommodation” when communicating to employers. However, supervisors and managers must recognize when a request for accommodation is being made, and under the law, they must provide a reasonable accommodation unless doing so would cause the employer undue hardship. Made on a case-by-case basis, reasonable accommodations could include modified work schedules, time off, wheelchair accessibility, or providing an interpreter, and whether providing such accommodations constitutes an undue hardship is based on the difficulty, disruption, and cost of providing the accommodation; they must be significant to be considered an undue hardship.
Employers also must engage in an informal, interactive dialogue with employees about the limitations caused by their disability and the options for reasonable accommodation. Employees should state an effective and preferred accommodation, and the employers could respond with alternatives, ensuring that they work together on a solution. The law does not mandate that employers provide the employees’ preferred accommodation, and they can choose one that is more cost-effective and less burdensome. Employers should keep in mind that an expanded definition of disability means more individuals are protected by the ADA, and employers are at greater risk of noncompliance. However, they can minimize this risk by ensuring that supervisors and managers are trained to identify when employees need an accommodation and are requesting one, and they should be ready to interact with employees to determine a reasonable accommodation.