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ENews: Volume 13, Issue 1, First Quarter, 2015

The JAN E-News is a quarterly online newsletter. Its purpose is to keep subscribers informed about low-cost and innovative accommodation approaches; the latest trends in assistive technologies; announcements of upcoming JAN presentations, media events, trainings, and Webcasts; and legislative and policy updates promoting the employment success of people with disabilities.

An e-mail announcement is sent to an opt-in list when a new issue is available. Please use the links at the end of this document to subscribe or unsubscribe.

Index

  1. Best Practices in Establishing a Centralized Accommodation Fund
  2. The Significance of Dress Codes under the ADA
  3. Leave and the ADA
  4. Sign Language Interpreters
  5. Current Trends in the Workplace: Considering the ADA and Accommodations for Employees
  6. New "Who I Am" Public Service Announcement from ODEP
  7. JAN Blog Growing
  8. JAN Releases New Resources
  9. E-vents
  10. JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
  11. Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

1 - Best Practices in Establishing a Centralized Accommodation Fund

One of the best practices in hiring and retaining employees with disabilities touted over the past years has been a centralized accommodation fund (CAF). Providing an enterprise-wide general fund to pay for applicant and employee accommodations is one strategy towards increasing employment for people with disabilities. The strategy works by reducing the fear of hiring managers and supervisors that their individual unit or departmental budget will be charged for the cost of the accommodation. Such a charge would effectively reduce their operating budget.

Much of this fear stems from the belief that accommodations are costly. While we know from many studies conducted over the past few decades that the cost of accommodation is not to be feared, many still stubbornly hold on to this myth. In an ongoing study conducted with JAN customers, employers report that a high percentage (57%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make and that the rest typically cost only $500 (Job Accommodation Network, 2014).

While there are a number of articles addressing the challenge of getting hiring manager and supervisor buy-in to pay for the cost of an accommodation, there is scant information about how to actually implement a CAF. This article seeks to provide this information by interviewing and reporting the experience of two companies that have established or are in the process of developing a CAF. The companies interviewed are large enterprises with more than 20,000 employees.

Both companies interviewed suggested multiple internal and external drivers for developing a CAF. One company framed the development of a CAF as an investment in the future of employees, managers, and the enterprise as a whole. Primary to these external drivers was the new Section 503 regulations and the fierce competition for talent in the future. One of the interviewees reported “a fierce competition for a limited pool of talent" so the effort must be made to attract the best workers including from the pool of people with disabilities. As expected, reducing the fear of supervisors in providing accommodations from their department funds was one of the primary drivers for developing a CAF.

However, as important with these two companies was bringing consistency to the overall existing accommodation process. This consistency promised to make the whole process more understandable to all employees but particularly hiring managers and supervisors. One of the company representatives interviewed referred to the process of refreshing the existing accommodation process while instituting a CAF as harmonizing their accommodation policies and practices. Previously, every department within the company processed requests and with so many functional areas there was inconsistency. The new harmonized system insures “no one feels threatened and everyone understands.” While not using the word “harmonizing,” the other company representative explained the fund resulted from a need to streamline current processes including clearly identifying personnel roles and responsibilities.

In each of the companies interviewed, the effort to develop and implement a CAF resulted from the CEO and VP suites understanding the business case. One of the company representatives reported two business cases being developed, one developed during a pilot of the fund in 2005 and the other in 2010 as the CAF processes were refreshed. The 2010 business case included a financial analysis regarding what would be provided by the fund and at what cost. A questionnaire was also developed to globally benchmark others within the industry. The second company representative reported no formal development of a business case. In this company, the CEO understood the global business case and provided leadership to insure VPs made the CAF a priority.

One of the companies has a long standing accommodation process, but starting in 2009, their best practices team looked at the process in order to develop a more consistent, formalized process across business sectors. The group worked closely with the information and communication technology department. One recommendation was for an accessibility officer to be hired in order to insure that the company intranet, website, and applicant tracking system be accessible. In 2011, an effort began to harmonize the accommodation process. Once legitimized by senior vice presidents, this harmonization resulted in the funding of the CAF. The fund was launched before all of the processes were harmonized. The company representative reported “Taking budget out of their hands (hiring managers and supervisors) turned out to be best first step.”

Both company representatives reported buy-in by VPs and managers as essential to the success of the CAF. In one company, Human Resources (HR) spearheaded both the development as well as the communications for the CAF. More specifically, the Senior Vice President of HR approved the centralized fund in consultation with all of the departments touched by accommodations. This consultation enabled the other stakeholders, i.e., benefits, safety, and fleet, to be vested in the fund implementation. One lesson learned included earlier involvement of stakeholders. The second company reported a similar effort although the responsibility for the program resided in the Vice President of Global Corporate Responsibility in partnership with HR. Two other major stakeholders included Vice President of employee self-service and IT services. One stakeholder not yet brought in the CAF implementation in this particular company was Workers Compensation.

The responsibility of communicating information about the development and implementation for the CAF was primarily the responsibility of the leadership in HR or Global Corporate Responsibility. However, once the VP level were vested then they too shared this responsibility. In one of the companies, the CAF was promoted through regular factoids being sent and disability etiquette training provided to 80+ VPs. In this same company, when it was realized that employees were not requesting accommodation, a workplace enablement program was launched to make employees aware of the CAF. Numerous communication efforts were designed to increase knowledge including Enews sent to all employees. Global Corporate Responsibility and HR worked closely with stakeholders to communicate messages about the program.

The biggest challenge reported by this particular company was that of cultural change. The CAF implementation team had a dedicated change management team who met frequently with the employee resource groups (ERG), human resource business partners, and hiring and functional managers. Every step of the way, communication flowed to the 80 VPs, the CEO, the Global Diversity and this communication was through various channels. The ERG also had the responsibility to carry the message. Reportedly, communication insured the big cultural shift that was necessary for CAF implementation. 

Important to establishing this fund is setting a budget for the CAF. One of the CAFs was budgeted at $300,000 for the company of 22,000 employees. This budget was established after a pilot project with employees in a specific geographic area. The other company – a federal contractor with more than 65,000 employees - reported their budget being based upon 6% of the employees of that particular sector coming forward to request an accommodation. The company representative suggested developing the budget for the fund was much easier than first thought. Once it was developed then it was submitted to the federal government for approval. This approval was granted.

Central to establishing a CAF is the determination of accommodations to be covered. In one company, their initial fund in 2004 covered communication support, technology, and interpreters. The CAF expanded in 2010 now covers ergonomics, adjustments required of the company’s fleet of cars, and facility modifications. The second company interviewed provided all types of accommodation even considering a workplace personal assistance (WPAS), which is a form of accommodation not often offered by most employers. WPAS is most often offered in the case of external training. The employer would pay for the WPAS as well as any travel related costs such as hotels and meals.

After speaking about the fundamentals of establishing a CAF, I asked the company representatives about the process of accessing the CAF. Both companies used some form of reasonable accommodation tracking technology to manage the CAF. One company used SharePoint to track the accommodation but found that tool wasn’t robust enough because it did not allow for assigning roles. Now they use a segregated mailbox. The other company recently launched an employee accommodations portal for processing requests. This employee accommodations portal uses a customized version of the Simplicity software.
 
In talking further about the process for requesting an accommodation, both companies reported that requests came from various stakeholders of the organization. The request may come directly from the person with a disability, or from a hiring manager, supervisor, safety department, benefits, physical plant or even a disability vendor. Both companies respond to the request by asking for medical documentation to support the request if appropriate. In one company, requests would be followed up by asking the employee to sign a HIPAA form and then the person who needs the accommodation would be engaged in a conversation about what is needed and why. Once the accommodation request is clear then it is costed out. The request is then forwarded to the department responsible for implementing the accommodation. The final decision is then communicated to the employee with an estimated time frame for implementation.  At this point, the employer representative communicates what is going to happen, why it needs to happen, and when it will happen. The accommodation is then charged against the centralized budget.

At the second company, the process for accessing the centralized fund starts with the employee making a request of their manager, service center, medical, or a request may be made directly to the Director of Diversity and Inclusion. In January of 2015, employees will also be able to go to a self-service accommodations portal. The system, says the employer representative, “takes a major headache off of the manager who does not have the expertise in this area.” The portal allows employees to answer a series of questions including if the person is a current employee, where they are located, and what kind of accommodation is being requested – a medical or a mobility accommodation. No diagnosis is required. The company only asks for limitations. The self-service portal contains an array of tools to be requested. This includes services. For instance, an ergonomic assessment is requested then a request for such a service is sent to the Diversity & Inclusion employer representative who will approve the request and then refer the person to a telephonic ergonomic firm that has been contracted to provide an assessment. Depending upon whether an employee discloses a medical or mobility accommodation, the company may or may not engage the employee in a formal reasonable accommodation meeting.

It was interesting to me that neither company reported a challenge related to the purchase of the accommodation. I have heard often that companies were challenged to buy accommodations through their regular procurement system. Delays tended to be the largest challenge. But neither of the companies interviewed reported this problem. One company had an I-buy procurement system, which expedited the purchasing process. The I-buy system eliminates the need for invoicing. The only issue reported was that of purchasing Apps and other software posing a security risk. The company resolved this issue by developing a list of vetted Apps and software programs. The other company representative reported that they capitalize on relationships and partnerships with their technology, facilities, and equipment departments. And, all of these department have direct access to the centralized fund.

In conclusion, let me offer a few best practices in establishing a centralized accommodation fund valid for businesses of all sizes:

- Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, CPDM, JAN Co-Director

2 - The Significance of Dress Codes under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Dress codes may entail something simple like a requirement that employees wear a specific type of clothing because of the environment or because of the type of business. In a medical facility, for example, registered nurses might be required to wear a certain color and type of medical scrub. In a manufacturing facility, managers may have to wear shirts with their names on them and a different color hat. A transportation company may require a specific uniform or type of shoes. Dress codes may also forbid any jeans or sneakers while requiring business formal attire. Or, dress codes could forbid the wearing of hats, sunglasses, or open-toed shoes. Dress codes establish guidelines for the workplace, but they can vary among industries, regions, and even based on whether the facility is open to the public. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (2011):

Employers may require employees to wear certain articles of clothing to protect themselves, coworkers, or the public (e.g., construction workers are required to wear certain head gear to prevent injury; health care workers wear gloves to prevent transmission of disease from or to patients). Sometimes employers impose dress codes to make employees easily identifiable to customers and clients, or to promote a certain image (e.g., a movie theater requires its staff to wear a uniform; a store requires all sales associates to dress in black). A dress code also may prohibit employees from wearing certain items either as a form of protection or to promote a certain image (e.g., prohibitions on wearing jewelry or baseball caps, or requirements that workers wear business attire).

So, may an employer require that an employee with a disability follow the dress code imposed on all workers in the same job? Most agencies treat dress codes as "conduct rules," but classify them as the type of conduct rule that must be justified as "job-related and consistent with business necessity" before being enforced. So, if a person with a disability requests modification to a dress code as a reasonable accommodation, an employer must consider allowing the modification unless the employer can show that the dress code is required for the job in question.

The EEOC (2011) provides several examples of modification to a dress code as guidance.

If the employee cannot meet the dress code because of a disability, the employer may still require compliance if the dress code is job-related and consistent with business necessity. An employer also may require that an employee with a disability meet dress standards required by federal law. If an individual with a disability cannot comply with a dress code that meets the “business necessity” standard or is mandated by federal law, even with a reasonable accommodation, he will not be considered “qualified.”

JAN receives many questions related to dress codes. For additional guidance, contact JAN directly.

- Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant

3 - Leave and the ADA

One of the more confusing reasonable accommodation issues that employers have to handle under the ADA is permitting the use of accrued paid leave, or providing unpaid leave, when an employee’s disability necessitates it. The concept can be difficult to grasp because it doesn’t align with the idea of providing an accommodation that keeps an employee on-the-job. However, the goal in allowing the use of leave time as a reasonable accommodation is to provide job-protected time in order to enable a qualified employee with a disability to manage his or her medical impairment and ultimately remain in the workforce.

There are many situations that will require an employer to consider allowing an employee with a disability to use leave as an ADA accommodation, barring undue hardship. Some situations include, but are not limited to:

As a practical matter, an employer may want to first determine if an employee is eligible for leave under FMLA, a state leave law, or company leave policy before granting leave as an accommodation under the ADA. Why? Because FMLA, state laws, and company leave policies traditionally include leave entitlements that are more clearly understood. It can be challenging to determine if, and how much, leave is reasonable under the ADA.

JAN Consultants respond to a variety of questions related to leave and the ADA. Here are some examples of common questions and responses:

Question #1: Can an employer apply its “no-fault” leave policy to everyone?

Question #2: Is leave provided as an accommodation required to be paid or unpaid under the ADA?

Question #3: What duration of leave is required under the ADA?

Question #4: Does the EEOC provide any information about how to determine undue hardship related to leave?

For more information, see q. 20 in the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities.

It is suggested that employers make an effort to document the impact employees’ absences have on operations. Not from a morale perspective, but rather, an operational perspective. For example, how was the employee’s work completed while s/he was absent? Were production goals met? Was overtime paid to other employees to complete the work? Was the employer unable to provide a service to its customers? Keep a confidential log of this type of information in order to make a fact-specific judgment of undue hardship, if necessary.

Question #5: Can leave be intermittent?

Question #6: Does an employer have to hold open an employee's job while using leave as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA?

Question #7: Is an employer required to maintain health insurance benefits during an extended leave under the ADA?

Question #8: Should an employer modify its attendance policy when leave is provided as a reasonable accommodation?

Question #9. Is an employer required to grant an ADA leave extension after FMLA has expired? Question #10: Does an employer have to grant indefinite leave as a reasonable accommodation?

JAN offers a new, more in depth, Accommodation and Compliance Series publication regarding leave issues. To learn more about leave issues and the ADA, see JAN’s A to Z By Topic: Leave, including Leave as an Accommodation Under the ADA. If you have questions related to leave and the ADA, or other accommodation and ADA issues, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant.

- Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist

4 - Sign Language Interpreters

In the short time I’ve been with JAN, I’ve received many calls with questions about sign language interpreters and when they should be provided in the workplace. Some of the more common questions that have been asked are:

  1. What other accommodations, other than an interpreter, could be provided for interviewing an individual who is deaf?
  1. Is the employer obligated to provide an interpreter for an employee who is deaf during a holiday luncheon that will be held onsite?
  1. Can an employer use a current employee who knows sign language to interpret during a training class? Is an employer required to hire an outside interpreter from a professional agency?
  1. Who is responsible for providing and paying for a sign language interpreter?
  1. A job candidate is deaf and is requesting an interpreter. Do you have any interpreter resources in our area?

Not all sign language interpreters are certified or registered. To locate a sign-language interpreter, contact the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) http://www.rid.org/ at 703-838-0030 V, 703- 838-0459 TTY, or use RID’s search tools to look for an interpreter or interpreter agency/referral service. You can search for agencies by name, city, state, area code, or zip code.  It may also be a good idea to contact RID directly to ensure that the information listed on the Website is current.

- Traci Jordan, MS, CRC; Consultant, Sensory Team

5 - Current Trends in the Workplace: Considering the ADA and Accommodations for Employees

As most of us know, trends in the workplace are ever-changing and developing from year to year. JAN recently offered a training on the top ten workplace trends to kick off the annual JAN Webcast series for 2014/2015. The focus of this Webcast was to provide an overview of various up-and-coming trends that JAN consultants are hearing about. This article highlights two of the ten current trends covered in the Webcast: open-plan offices and white noise systems.

Open-plan offices

Open-plan offices, where cubicle walls and private offices are removed, are intended to increase collaboration, communication, and productivity. The non-traditional design can be a cost-cutting strategy and an attempt to limit the perception of a hierarchical corporate structure resulting in a workforce that is more cohesive and efficient. The trend of opening up an office and removing cubicle walls is growing, but is not without its problems, particularly when it comes to the continuation of accommodations for employees with disabilities. In open-plan workspaces the potential for distractions to increase and for employees to have difficulty concentrating could have an impact on employees with attention deficit disorder, hearing loss, or other sensory or mental health impairments that are triggered or exacerbated by noise.

In terms of the limits to how a workspace is modified, when cubicle walls are removed it becomes even more difficult for the air quality and/or temperature in a person’s workspace to be regulated. Employees who rely on the cubicle walls or an office to help regulate an environment may be impacted by an open-plan workspace.

Yet another concern is in relation to maintaining confidentiality of an employee’s accommodation. This could be problematic if removing cubicle walls or private offices results in exposing accommodations that are in place to coworkers and/or the public. Examples of accommodations that employee’s with various disabilities may be using that would be obvious to coworkers in an open-plan office could include:

Here is an example to illustrate the impact of modifying an office to make it open-plan:

A financial planner with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and bipolar disorder had been provided with high cubicle walls and a cubicle door as an accommodation to reduce distractions and allow him a private space for phone calls to his counselor. The employer decided that the office design was going to be changed and everyone was expected to work in an open-plan space. After two weeks of sitting in the open-plan space the employee’s productivity started to drop and he requested to have his old space back as an accommodation.

In this situation the employer would need to look at what options might be available to the employee so that he can get back to a point where he is able to be productive at work. This might include creating a separate workspace for him, modifying his schedule so that he is working during hours when the office is not as busy, allowing him to work in a private space-maybe even on an intermittent basis-or allowing telework if the employee does not feel that this would be forced isolation.

White noise systems

White noise systems, sometimes called sound masking systems or speech privacy systems are systems that use a particular type of sound emitted from specially placed speakers to mask unwanted background noise. These products are marketed as a way to limit the distance from which a private or confidential conversation can be overheard, which businesses may find desirable as a means of complying with laws requiring privacy safeguards as well as a means for prevention of corporate espionage.

Most of the systems that JAN consultants have heard about use sound emitters that are placed above ceiling tiles. Some may use smaller, low-profile emitters that could be attached to walls, furniture, or cubical walls. Both emitters function somewhat similarly to the smaller environmental sound machines and tinnitus maskers that you might already be familiar with. They differ in that they are strategically placed in a design that allows them to work together to mask out background noise and enhance speech privacy in large spaces.

In terms of the ADA implications for use of white noise systems in the workplace, there are advantages and disadvantages. Advantages could include: a reduction in distractions from background noise; prevention of breaches of confidentiality; and, for large spaces, they may be cost-effective compared to installing other products, such as acoustic paneling or noise absorption foam.

Disadvantages should also be a factor when considering the installation of a white noise system. For example, these systems may interfere with the functioning of some types of hearing aids. This is largely because sound masking systems don’t provide true noise cancellation; they mask sound by emitting sound, but not by fully canceling it out. Modern hearing aids can actually adjust themselves to prevent damage to the ear from amplifying sounds and, in some cases, noise from a sound masking system may cause this safety feature to become activated. Finally, even for those who do not use hearing aids, individuals may be distracted by the white noise itself if they experience some type of noise sensitivity. Some employees have even mistaken normal functioning of a sound masking system for a malfunction of the building’s ventilation system. Here is an accommodation example:

An employee who used hearing aids reported that white noise from his workplace’s sound masking system was interfering with the functioning of his hearing aids and making it difficult for him understand what others were saying in conversations and in meetings. Attending meetings at multiple locations in the facility to obtain information was an important part of the individual’s job.

A JAN consultant suggested exploring options for adjusting the sound masking system and seeking input from an audiologist to see whether an FM system might help with hearing during meetings.

As always, when employees report that they are having difficulty performing their job because of a disability or medical condition, it may be time to engage in the interactive process and consider reasonable accommodations. From a practical standpoint, having a developed process in place is a way to streamline the entire accommodation process and help insure that effective accommodations are provided. It creates consistency in policy and practice, leads to the implementation of successful accommodations, and shows good faith. The Current Trends Webcast also included five practical tips for providing and maintaining effective accommodations, such as those related to the trends JAN consultants are hearing about. For each of the ten trends discussed in the Webcast, ADA implications with implementing the trend and examples of accommodations related to the trend were provided. In addition to open-plan workspaces and white noise systems, the Current Trends Webcast covered:

If you, or your organization, are interested in reviewing the Current Trends Webcast in its entirety from JAN's archive.

- Elisabeth Simpson, MS, Senior Consultant, Motor Team

6 - New "Who I Am" Public Service Announcement from ODEP Now Airing on Television Stations Around the Country

The PSA features nine people with disabilities who are not defined solely by their disability but instead by their many life roles — including working in jobs they love. The participants in the “Who I Am” PSA remind us that recognizing the value they add to the workplace fosters a work culture welcoming of the talents of all individuals. Fostering a work environment that is flexible and open to the talents of all qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, actually promotes workplace success for everyone. What can YOU do to help promote inclusion and opportunities for people with disabilities in the workplace?

Show your support by encouraging your local television stations to air the “Who I Am” PSA. “Who I Am” reminds us to see one another for who we are and what we can contribute. The PSA will positively impact television viewers and empower those with disabilities—especially those with non-apparent disabilities—to bring their whole selves to everything they do—including their work. The CDE invites you to encourage stations to air the PSA by sending a letter or e-mail to your local television stations. The CDE offers a template letter to make it easy. Click here to download the letter. To learn more about the CDE and to view the “Who I Am” PSA, visit http://whatcanyoudocampaign.org.

7 - JAN Blog Growing

The Ask JAN Blog provides an opportunity for you to share with others your workplace accommodation solutions. JAN receives over 40,000 contacts per year – conversations with all of you that help us better understand what’s working effectively in your workplaces. We have a great deal to learn from one another. We encourage you to share your experiences and interact with the JAN staff. Your accommodation success stories can benefit many others around the Nation. Enjoy the new postings and additional Spanish selections:

Become a part of the new JAN blogging community!

8 - JAN Releases New Resources

9 - E-vents

10 - JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule

Events of particular interest: Get the most up-to-date and comprehensive training on employing people with disabilities. To view the complete JAN travel schedule go to JAN-on-the-Road.

11 - Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

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This document was developed by the Job Accommodation Network, funded by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (DOL079RP20426). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Nor does mention of tradenames, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor.

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