Who Let the Dogs…In?

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 18, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist, and Lou Orslene, Co-Director

The song is in your head now, isn’t it? You know the one. Now you have this vision of a pile of big and little, furry dogs, ears flopping up and down, running wildly, …through the halls of your organization. And suddenly, the music in your head has come to a screeching halt. Who let the dogs…at work? Service and emotional support dogs have become more prevalent as a form of reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities employed in private, public, and federal sector workplaces all over the country. Fortunately, the issue of whether or not a dog must be permitted as a reasonable accommodation at work is rarely debated now. Employers are more informed about service and emotional support animals as accommodations and understand that having a dog at work, for some people who require it due to their disability, promotes effective job performance.

While there is little debate over the need to consider access for service and emotional support dogs as an accommodation in the workplace, employers sometimes wonder about the best way to inform others in the workplace concerning Fido’s impending presence. We know that, under the ADA, employers are permitted to share limited information about the animal with those who are on a “need-to-know” basis. For example, a manager or supervisor might be informed about a service dog and how to interact appropriately. However, the employer is not permitted to share disability-related information with co-workers. As this at times can be confusing, let us offer a couple of best practices while teasing out the question of confidentiality and service and emotional support dogs as an accommodation in the workplace.

Let’s start with a couple of best employer practices in regard to service and emotional support dogs. A service or emotional support dog is an obvious accommodation that will immediately be known by others who encounter the dog at work. It’s also an accommodation that could impact other employees. In some ways, it’s like acknowledging the elephant in the room, but a much furrier, smaller elephant, that sometimes barks. Preparing employees for dogs in the workplace, like other accommodations, should begin before a dog arrives, or accommodations are needed. What I mean is, when employees are educated about the ADA and their ability to request workplace accommodations, there can be fewer questions or cause for concern when an accommodation is implemented because people just know – they understand why there is a change at work. So as a best practice, employers who promote an informed and inclusive workplace should offer disability etiquette training to all employees and educate people about interacting with service animals in general.

Another best employer practice in response to an employee accommodation request for the use of a service or emotional support dog is to ask the employee using the service animal how they would like to handle the situation of informing (or not informing) others about the presence of the dog and how to interact appropriately prior to bringing the dog to work. Dog lovers beware and resist the urge to go nose-to-nose with that furry animal! The dog has a job to do. As is often the case, the employee being accommodated may be the best source for input and information. Note that the employee who uses a service dog is free to independently (and voluntarily) share information about their animal and need for accommodation with others in the workplace.

However, if an employee is uncomfortable with the employer sharing information about the service or emotional support dog and the employee prefers not to share information, then it is the employer’s obligation to protect the confidentiality of the employee with a disability and their request of a service animal as an accommodation. But then you may ask yourself, doesn’t the supervisor, manager, or other personnel involved in the provision of the accommodation need to know some information about the accommodation? The answer is yes – but only those who are on a “need-to-know” basis should have this information. For example, a manager or supervisor who is responsible for implementing the use of a service animal in a particular job site. These “need-to-know” personnel will need to know how to effectively integrate the service animal into the workplace, including where the service animal will relieve itself or if the service animal will be included in meeting spaces. However, it could be a breach of confidentiality for employers to reveal why the service or emotional support dog is needed.

So what about the employee’s co-workers? What information can an employer share with them? We know that, under the ADA, employers are not permitted to share disability-related information with co-workers. This would be a breach of confidentiality. We also know that while employers have no particular obligation to inform others that a dog will be allowed on the premises, there are dynamics in the workplace where providing limited information is important. For instance, in the event a co-worker is afraid of dogs or has an animal allergy, or perhaps when questions arise about why a “no animals” policy is being modified.

How then does an employer communicate that a dog will be soon entering the workplace? As stated previously, revealing that an employee is being “accommodated” is a violation of confidentiality, so we suggest employers be cautious about using the terms “service” or “emotional support” dog when announcing that a dog will be allowed on the premises. Informal guidance JAN has received from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on this issue notes that verifying that a dog is a service animal and not a pet is revealing that the employer is allowing the animal onto its premises because of the services it performs as a reasonable accommodation. This, in turn, is revealing that the employee using the service animal has a disability, even if the disclosure is not revealing the nature of the disability.

In light of this EEOC guidance, we suggest employers who feel the need to share that a dog will be on the premises can share this information with limited individuals in the employee’s immediate work area. These co-workers, given their working proximity to the employee who requires the service animal, might be informed that a dog will be present, that its particular presence is approved by the employer, and who to contact if someone has an issue or concern regarding the matter. This approach is informative to the extent necessary, makes it clear that the employer is aware and approves the dog’s presence in the workplace, and provides information to co-workers about who to contact if, for instance, they have an allergy or a fear of dogs, so these issues can be resolved privately.

So our tips for communicating to employees about service animals:

  • Prepare your workforce for the inevitable presence of a service or emotional support dog with general disability etiquette training including specific information about service animals.
  • Discuss with the employee requesting access for a service or emotional support dog as an accommodation their expectations for how others should interact with the dog. Ask what information, if any at all, the employee would like shared with others about the dog’s presence.
  • Inform managers or supervisors on a need-to-know basis about service and emotional support dogs as accommodations. Managers or supervisors will need to know what their role is in effectively implementing the accommodation.
  • When necessary, let co-workers know in advance that a dog – not a “service” or “emotional support” dog – will be entering the workplace and who to contact if there are questions or concerns.

These resources may help:

Manners Unleashed: Etiquette Regarding Service Dogs

Disability Etiquette in the Workplace

The Manager’s Dilemma: “An employee is asking about a co-worker’s accommodation. As a manager, what do I say?”

Educating the Workforce about the ADA & Accommodations

For more information about service and emotional support dogs in the workplace, please contact JAN to speak with a consultant, or go to AskJAN.org and see the A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Service Animals.

 

 

The Everyday Dangers of Brain Injuries

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 17, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Kelsey Lewis, Former JAN Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

With football season in full swing, it isn’t uncommon to hear stories of sports-related head injuries for high school, college, and professional athletes alike. The risk of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), both mild and severe, is a very real threat for players and can occur during both practices and games. But with all of the negative publicity that football attracts regarding head injuries, many people aren’t aware that most TBIs are caused by everyday falls, something that can happen to almost anyone at any time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that falls made up approximately 40% of all TBIs between the years 2006-2010, with unintentional blunt trauma (being hit by an object) and vehicle crashes following behind (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).

As someone who does not identify as being athletic (although I was a great bench warmer during my soccer career), I never really experienced many injuries on or off the field. So it was much to my surprise when I took a recent spill at home resulting in a mild concussion. After the fall, I immediately felt dizzy, nauseated, and had a pounding headache. I could tell this was like no other injury I had experienced before; I just didn’t feel like myself. The days immediately following the accident, I reported to work as usual, discussed accommodations, and went on with my typical routine. However, I was utterly exhausted, felt oddly emotional, and still had a headache. Finally, on the third day of work after my fall, one of my trusted JAN colleagues intervened and convinced me to take care of myself. I took the next day off along with the weekend to rest, unplugged the electronics, went to the emergency department to make sure everything was fine (it was), and slowly started feeling better within a few weeks. The point of my self-disclosure? To illustrate just how easily and innocently a brain injury can occur, even if it is in the form of a mild concussion, in which one can recover and feel “normal” within a few weeks.

Regardless of whether TBI symptoms are temporary or long-term, accommodations can assist in the recovery and management process. Symptoms from a brain injury may affect:

  • Cognitive function (e.g. attention and memory)
  • Motor function (e.g. weakness and impaired balance/coordination)
  • Sensory function (e.g. hearing, vision, and impaired perception)
  • Emotional function (e.g. depression, anxiety, aggression, and impulse control)
  • A combination of any of these.

Possible workplace accommodations can include low cost options such as providing a tape recorder in order to remember the content of a meeting or procedural accommodations like providing leave or a modified schedule to recover from the initial injury or go to medical appointments. More involved accommodations to a workspace may include installing ramps and handrails for issues associated with mobility. JAN’s publication Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Brain Injuries provides additional accommodation ideas. Our publication Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact provides information from our survey of employers who historically report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities.

Regardless of how a TBI occurs or the severity of the injury, one of the most important things to remember is to “take it easy” after one occurs. Rest helps your brain heal and can speed up the recovery process (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Once returning to work, accommodations can help address the limitations resulting from the injury.

Resources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Injury Prevention & Control: Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion

Employees’ Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Job Accommodation Network (Original 2005, Updated 2007, Updated 2009, Updated 2010, Updated 2011, Updated 2012, Updated 2013, Updated 2014, Updated 2015, Updated 2016). Workplace accommodations: Low cost, high impact. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from http://AskJAN.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html

Guest Blog – Website Addresses Addiction and Mental Health Impairments

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 10, 2016 under Employers, Organizations | Comments are off for this article

Occasionally at JAN, we are contacted by a new organization or individual who wants to share with us their information and the work they do through a guest Blog. We were contacted by Adam Cook who has started the Website Addictionhub.org that focuses on resources to support individuals with a coexistence of a mental health impairment and drug/alcohol addiction. He had read our Blog and asked to write an article about his work and a topic he feels is often insufficiently addressed, including in the employment arena.

We chose to do the Blog in a Q&A format. We thank Adam for contacting us about this topic and wanting to share this information with our customers as he develops both his site and its potential outreach.

1.  Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and what inspired you to start the Website Addictionhub.org?

I am a pretty average guy with an above-average passion in regards to helping people find the resources they need to fight addiction. I became dedicated to this cause a few years ago when I lost a good friend of mine to suicide. He had been dealing not only with alcoholism, but also had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I believe that it was harder for him to fight his addiction battle because of the state of his mental health, and his addiction exacerbated his mental illness. He finally went into treatment, but afterwards he resisted finding a long-term program. Eventually he gave up hope, and I lost him.

I don’t want anyone else to feel the sorrow I have experienced after losing a life-long friend, nor do I want anyone to have to go through what he did. He wasn’t alone, but he felt like he was. I wish I had known more about the resources that were out there when he was alive. It is my goal to spread the word about addiction and places where individuals and families can get help. I want to encourage people to not try to do it on their own.

2. Can you talk a bit about the process you underwent for starting the Website and what your short, medium, and long term vision is for the site? You’ve included a crowdsourcing component. Can you talk about why you built-in this feature?

Initially, I had hoped to simply create a place where I could list organizations and other resources that could help people who are fighting addictions. As I began doing research, I realized even if I could compile a large amount of information, I needed to do what I have encouraged others to do in their own journey: ask for help.

Since the launch of the site, I have had people contact me with information that has been extremely helpful. I value first-hand feedback in regards to how addiction assistance has made a difference. My goal now is to continue building on the searchable database with input from others. In the long term, I would like to have more involvement from not only people who have gone through programs, but also from the treatment providers.

3. You state the mission for your Website is “…to help individuals, families, and health workers find support with issues relating to addiction. We locate and catalog addiction resources from around the Web.” Can you expand on this mission?

I take the resources that are shared through the site very seriously. I take the time to research any organization or Website that is submitted to make sure that the information is useful and the programs are legitimate. I think it is important for individuals who need help to be able to find a program that they can relate to and that they will stick with.

4. You emphasize on your Website the connections between mental health impairments and addiction. Can you talk more about this connection from your perspective and why you believe this is an important point to make?

I experienced first-hand someone battling with alcoholism as well as bipolar disorder. From the perspective of an uninformed outsider, it was often hard for me to distinguish what symptoms were from which condition. I believe that my friend started drinking to deal with his mental health impairment, and that he faced even more challenges than most in finding a treatment plan that worked for him. Overall, mental health and addiction are two things that are very misunderstood by most. These challenges go beyond willpower and strength of character. They are serious medical conditions that often go hand-in-hand.

5. JAN addresses mental health impairments and addiction in the context of employment and accommodation situations. From your experience, can you talk about the specific impacts you feel these issues have for individuals in the workplace?

I believe one of the hardest things to overcome is the stigma put on recovering addicts and individuals with mental health impairments. These not only hold people back from seeking out treatment, but also can cause misunderstanding and mistrust from employers. If someone had a serious physical ailment such as cancer or an injury, it is acceptable for them to take time off to receive medical treatment or heal as needed. In the case of mental health or addiction, there are less accommodations given by employers, even though the conditions can be just as, or even more, serious.

When loss of employment does occur, it can trigger dangerous reactions. I have seen someone caught in a vicious cycle of despair where work stress contributes to symptoms and behaviors, and then those cause more issues at work.

In my research, I have determined that more employers are recognizing the importance of nurturing their employees’ mental health, but there are still a lot of hurdles.

For more information on mental health impairments and addiction in an employment context, see these resources on the JAN Website:

Accommodation Ideas for Alcoholism
Accommodation Ideas for Drug Addiction
Accommodation Ideas for Mental Health Impairments
Accommodation Ideas for Bipolar Disorder
Accommodation Ideas for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Disclosure Basics

Posted by Kim Cordingly on under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 26th anniversary this past July. This legislation is purposed to improve the lives of people with disabilities by protecting their rights to have access to employment, public entities, transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, telecommunications and more. It helps people with disabilities compete equally for employment and receive the accommodations and protections they need to work.

Are you in need of reasonable accommodations in the workplace due to a disability? Do you know what steps to take in order to get the process started? Disclosure is the first and sometimes the most difficult step. Just thinking about this can often cause anxiety and stress. So what exactly is disclosure?

Disclosure is divulging or giving out personal information about a disability. It is important for the employee to provide information about the nature of the disability, the limitations involved, and how the disability affects the ability to learn and/or perform the job effectively. The employer has a right to know if a disability is involved when an employee asks for accommodations.  Ideally, employees will disclose a disability and request accommodations before performance problems arise, or at least before they become too serious.

Let’s look at three main reasons why someone with a disability may choose to disclose a disability to their employer:

1). To ask for job accommodations. As an example, a bus garage employee with a reading disability missed instructions and important announcements that were sent via e-mail. As an accommodation, he requested screen reading software that allows text to be converted into computer synthesized speech.

2). To receive benefits or privileges of employment. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly-situated employees without disabilities. Benefits and privileges of employment include employer-sponsored training, access to cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation, and parties or other social functions. For example, an employee with Down syndrome signed up for a nutrition class, but had trouble understanding the information that was presented. His employer asked the instructor to provide pictures of the types of food she was recommending employees eat. The employee was able to use these pictures when making food choices.

3). To explain an unusual circumstance.  For instance, someone with temperature sensitivities due to multiple sclerosis (MS) may need to explain to his employer why it would be helpful to work from home while the office air conditioner is being repaired.

Disclosure can be quite simple. You can tell your employer that you need to talk about an adjustment or change that is essential for a reason related to a medical condition. You may use plain English to request an accommodation. You do not have to mention the ADA nor use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” It can be as easy as saying to your supervisor, “I need to talk to you about the difficulty I encounter when I try to hand write notes due to a medical condition.”

Questions about disclosure? Contact JAN for more information or to discuss an accommodation situation with a consultant.

Resources:

JAN Topic — Disclosure

The ADA in 2016

JAN ADA Library

What’s in a Routine?

Posted by Kim Cordingly on August 19, 2016 under Accommodations, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

With summer coming to a close and schools starting to resume, I become reminiscent of the time when my son was younger. I hear parents talking about being anxious for school to start so their kids will be back on a schedule and out of their hair. I was never one of those parents. Maybe that is because I was a teacher and spent so many days out of the year immersed in a strict routine and consistent schedule. Freewheeling through the summer, making plans as each day dictated – depending on the weather and our whims, tasted of pure freedom. But it is valuable for children to have a routine. It is good for them to know what to expect so they spend less time wondering what is about to happen, or feel less anxiety trying to figure out what to do next.

However, it is not just children who do well with a schedule. Essentially, all of us function more fully with a routine or schedule. A routine provides structure and familiarity; organization and direction; and order and dependability. A routine also increases efficiency, makes tasks more of a habit, and saves time by eliminating the need to consider what to do next. With a routine we master tasks by becoming better and quicker. And as we accomplish things, we move closer and closer to our goals.

For individuals with cognitive impairments, a routine may be crucial to enabling the completion of essential functions of their jobs.  Difficulties with memory, concentration, organization, multi-tasking, and time management make routines and schedules not only helpful, but necessary.

Here are a few tips for setting up a routine at work:

  • Recruit the help of a mentor or supervisor.
  • Keep a strict morning schedule, which can alleviate rushing around and being tardy for work.
  • Be aware of time-sensitive tasks. Make sure you know when tasks that have to be done at a certain time are due, then you can plug other tasks in around those.
  • Factor in how long the tasks should take. Pace yourself.
  • Cluster tasks that are similar, so you can complete them while you are in the “zone.”
  • Assess your day as to when you have the most mental energy and stamina to do the more difficult tasks.
  • Use a checklist. Who doesn’t? Various checklists with different functions can help you work much more effectively. A checklist of tasks to be done, or one that involves steps in a procedure, are just two examples. A list of what needs to be done tomorrow, made before you leave work today, can help limit the time you will spend in the morning trying to remember.
  • Make use of calendars and planners, whether paper or electronic.
  • Plan regular meetings with a mentor or supervisor to set goals and help stay on task.
  • Schedule five to ten minutes daily at the end of your shift to clean up your desk/work area. This can alleviate the need to spend more massive amounts of time later for a thorough clean-up. We all work more efficiently without the distractions of clutter.
  • Incorporate an evening routine at home to save you time in the mornings.

Below are accommodation examples of how routines and schedules can help employees be more successful in the workplace. (All the names are pseudonyms, but the examples are from actual JAN inquiries.)

Situation:
Liam, who has an intellectual disability, works as a mail clerk. He belonged to several coffee clubs in his workplace, so as he collected mail first thing in the morning, he would have a cup of coffee with each department of the building. He would get involved in conversations and forget what he was doing.  By the time he was finished with the first round of mail, it was lunch time. The same thing was occurring during his afternoon mail run.

Solution:
Liam’s employer decided to accompany and time him as he picked up the mail with no coffee stops so they would have an idea how long to allow for each mail run. His supervisor set up a schedule, gave Liam a timer, and showed him how to pace himself.  The schedule indicated where he should be at certain intervals on his route. By better management of his time, Liam was able to get several more daily tasks completed instead of just the two mail collections. Liam was also provided with a rotating coffee club schedule, allowing him one coffee break with one club each morning and each afternoon.

Situation:
Ronisha was tardy more mornings at work than she was on time. After a serious discussion with her manager, Ronisha disclosed she has ADHD and finds it nearly impossible to get herself out the door. She requested a flexible schedule stating the maintenance man could fill in for her when she was late. Her employer denied the request because Ronisha was the employee scheduled to open the museum gift shop, while the maintenance man had his own duties.

Solution:
Ronisha’s employer referred her to JAN, where a consultant helped her set up a home routine that would enable her to get to work on time. Because employers can have time and attendance standards for all employees, and because getting to work on time is the responsibility of the employee, Ronisha knew she had to make some changes to her morning routine. Here are some of the suggestions that worked for her:

  • Have a routine of putting and keeping things in their place (keys, phone, and glasses).
  • Prepare for the next day’s work the night before.
  • Create a checklist for yourself and others.
  • Place sticky notes on the door, dashboard, or wherever you will see them.
  • Turn off distractions – including cell phones and televisions.
  • Set a timer or a programmable watch to pace yourself.

Maintaining a routine as an accommodation can be most helpful for individuals who face difficulties in the following areas:

Organizing/Planning/Prioritizing

Memory Loss

Attentiveness/Concentration

Stress Intolerance

Managing Time

If the thoughts of a morning, daily, and evening routine are overwhelming to you right now, consider starting small and expanding. A routine for even part of your day can be highly beneficial. Once the benefits are recognized, the motivation to continue will come naturally. Happy scheduling!

Common Questions about Providing Equipment as an Accommodation

Posted by Kim Cordingly on July 15, 2016 under Accommodations, Employers, Products / Technology, Veterans Issues | Comments are off for this article

By: Elisabeth Simpson, Lead Consultant – Motor Team

As the Lead Consultant for the Motor Team, I am asked questions daily about the provision of equipment as an accommodation. Employers, individuals, and even rehabilitation professionals often ask if JAN provides equipment, who is responsible for buying equipment, and what resources are available to the employer if the cost of a piece of equipment would be an undue hardship.

Let’s start with the easy question first: Does JAN provide equipment? The answer is pretty simple. We do not provide or supply any type of equipment, technology, etc. Additionally, JAN does not offer on-site evaluations or worksite assessments of any type. We are limited, in a way, to providing assistance and guidance from a distance, but have developed an extensive product and vendor database for this reason. JAN consultants are trained to ask questions that help us better understand the work environment so we are able to offer accommodation ideas that are effective. When possible, we can direct you to where a piece of equipment or product can be purchased or even offer a variety of options for you to choose as the accommodation.

As for questions related to who is responsible for buying equipment — the EEOC has indicated that the employer is ultimately responsible for providing work-related equipment or devices as an accommodation, absent undue hardship. In some cases, an employee may be working with vocational rehabilitation services (VR) and the cost could be shared. In other cases, the employer can choose a less expensive accommodation as long as the alternative option selected is effective. In general, when an employer purchases a piece of equipment it is then owned by that employer. In situations where the cost is shared, it is important that a discussion take place as part of the interactive process so there will be a plan for what will happen with the equipment if/when the employee no longer needs it or no longer works for the employer.

Resources may be available for some employers to help with the cost of providing equipment as an accommodation. Tax credits could be taken advantage of if the employer qualifies or if the employee is part of a targeted group. Additional information about various tax incentives are available on JAN’s Website. Federal employers may be able to take advantage of the services offered by the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), which provides assistive technology and services to people with disabilities, Federal managers, supervisors, and IT professionals. Employees may be able to receive funding for assistive technology from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (if veterans or service members); the Social Security Administration’s Plan To Achieve Self-Support (PASS) and other work incentives; non-profit disability organizations; and civic or service organizations (Lions Club, VFW, Rotary Club, etc.). Employers can also look into state workers’ compensation programs if the disability was caused by a work-related injury.

At the end of the day, it is important to remember that while there may be a cost associated with purchasing a piece of equipment, there are many options available for employers to consider when this is the accommodation being provided. Additionally, the EEOC has offered guidance on how to determine undue hardship and JAN consultants on all teams are ready and willing to discuss options with you!

Additional Resources:

Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact

JAN ADA Library

State Assistive Technology Projects

JAN Searchable Online Accommodation Resource

Hobby Groups, Workplace Wellness, and Stress Reduction

Posted by Kim Cordingly on June 29, 2016 under Accommodations, Employers, General Information | Comments are off for this article

By: Kelsey Lewis, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

Every Thursday afternoon, I grab my yarn and knitting needles and join some of my colleagues at JAN for our “Yarn Club.” A mix of knitters and crocheters gather together during our lunch hour and get to work. While working on our own individual projects, we chat about our work or home lives, and sometimes even delve into deeper topics like religion or politics. Most times though, we spend the hour laughing — a lot. Regardless of the topic, this hour has become something I look forward to every week. Not only has it provided the chance to get to know the group members on a more personal level, but it is truly a therapeutic activity.

There is something about working with my hands and focusing my attention more on this art, and less on my daily stressors, that reenergizes me for the rest of the workday. Other group members have expressed the positive benefits they also feel from working on their individual projects in a shared group setting. This made me think — if more workplaces formed hobby groups, the work environment may be filled with many more relaxed employees.

JAN’s cognitive/neurological team frequently fields situations in which stress plays a significant role in the productivity of an employee with a disability. For instance, many employers share experiences of employees requesting an accommodation of a “less stressful environment.” Other times, we hear of employees having poor attendance or needing to take leave as an accommodation because workplace stress has exacerbated their pre-existing conditions. Although there are accommodations that can help relieve stress to a degree, such as allowing additional breaks to practice stress reduction activities, providing a quiet work area, or using environmental sound machines, additional solutions may be necessary to continue the feeling of relaxation throughout the work day. While forming hobby groups is not a formal accommodation, creating a workplace environment that fosters these type of activities can contribute overall to employee productivity and job satisfaction.

Knitting is certainly not the only hobby that can help relieve stress throughout the work day. Depending on the space and time available, all sorts of interest groups could be formed, including those that involve movement like walking, yoga, or martial arts. Other groups might focus more on hobbies like reading, scrapbooking, model building, or a new personal favorite — adult coloring books! There are many research studies linking physical activity to increased mental health, lower levels of tension, elevated and stabilized mood, better sleep, and improved self-esteem. But how about hobbies as a way to relieve stress?

According to one study that examined the bodily reactions of 115 men and women while performing leisure activities/hobbies, virtually all participants reported lower stress levels and had a lower heart rate during these activities compared to rest of their day. The participants reported that they were 34% less stressed, 18% less sad, and their heart rate dropped approximately 3%. Maybe the most important aspect of the study was that it showed that the positive effects carried over after the participant stopped the activity. This important piece may link hobbies to improved health over the span of a lifetime (Zawadzki, Smyth, & Costigan, 2015).

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a way to reduce stress throughout your work day, or even improve your overall health, why not consider creating a hobby group? Whether this means revisiting those old passions you forgot you enjoy or trying something you’ve never done before, hobby groups are a great way of getting to know your colleagues and tackle the rest of your day with a smile on your face!

References:

Fitzpatrick, K. (2016). Why adult coloring books are good for you. Retrieved from
http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/06/health/adult-coloring-books-popularity-mental-health/

Zawadzki, M. J., Smyth, J. M., & Costigan, H. J. (2015). Real-Time associations between engaging in leisure and daily health and well-being. Retrieved from http://www.ucmerced.edu/sites/ucmerced.edu/files/documents/zawadzki-paper-2015.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources for Those Affected by Trauma Related Disability and LGBTQ Workplace Supports

Posted by Kim Cordingly on June 17, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Matthew McCord, Consultant – Mobility Team

Support from JAN

In light of the tragedy that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this week, I’d like to discuss how experiencing a traumatic event can lead to someone developing a disability or having one exacerbated. It is true that traumatic events happen every day and come in many forms. They can happen in a multitude of ways, and certainly do not need to be on the scale of the horrific events at Pulse for them to be considered traumatic. The possible disabilities an individual could experience as a result of trauma or violence is a long list, and the resulting impairments that one may experience because of this is equally large. These can include mobility impairments as a result of acute injuries that affect walking, standing, grasping, bending and reaching; cognitive/mental health impairments that may lead to difficulty tolerating stress, sleep disruptions, depression, anxiety; or multiple internal injuries that cause chronic pain or headaches.

If you have experienced a traumatic event, be it an event like the tragedy at Pulse or otherwise, we here at JAN can help you explore possible workplace accommodations and understand your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To give you a starting point of what may be helpful for you to request as an accommodation, please explore the A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section of our Website. As always, if you have specific questions do not hesitate to contact us via our toll-free phone, E-mail, or chat. Our services are free and all information is confidential.

LGBTQ Issues, Workplace Discrimination, and the EEOC

As a consultant at JAN, the traumatic shooting at Pulse highlights an important topic in terms of workplace discrimination and employment issues — the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in addition to enforcing the employment provisions of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, can also help members of the LGBTQ community when they are subject to discrimination in the workplace. I have read multiple posts on social media during the course of this tragedy stating this trauma is heightened for them by the fact that LGBTQ people still do not have employment protections under federal law. These posts refer to things like at-will employment laws (when an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason) and the fact that no federal law specifically mentions providing protections to the LGBTQ community. They state that they can be fired for any reason. But, this is in fact not the case.

The EEOC, which is the federal agency that enforces laws relating to employment discrimination, does in fact accept cases when the discrimination is based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They do this, despite the fact that no federal law specifically mentions that they protect these individuals, because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protection against employment discrimination when it is due to reasons relating to sex.

In the publication below, EEOC writes:

“Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity, the EEOC and courts have said that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on an applicant or employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Preventing Employment Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Workers

We all need to do what we can in light of this tragedy. I hope this assists some of you and also helps to honor those who were lost on that night in Orlando.

Resource:

What You Should Know about EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — Only In the Winter? Not Always the Case

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 31, 2016 under Accommodations, Employers, Organizations, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Sarah Small, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

This past November, JAN posted a Blog discussing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is often characterized as “winter blues;” it is a type of depression that is associated with the change in seasons. Individuals with SAD may notice their symptoms of depression begin and end around the same time each year. It is thought that SAD occurs due to changes in our circadian rhythms (biological clock), which are often affected by seasonal changes.

While SAD is most commonly associated with the cold winter months, around 10% of individuals who experience SAD see their symptoms occur during the summer. This phenomenon is often referred to as reverse SAD or summer depression.

SAD in the winter is thought to be a result of shorter days and lack of sunlight. Summer SAD is thought to be the opposite — longer days and too much sunlight. Symptoms of reverse SAD may include loss of appetite, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of anxiety.

While some individuals with SAD experience their symptoms during the summer months, there are also other factors that may lead to feelings of depression or sadness. During the summer, there can be a lot of disruptions to our normal routines. With summer comes cookouts, vacations, yard work, and many other things that may cause us to feel busier than usual. All of a sudden we are tied down with planning and scheduling to try and fit everything in. This could lead to feelings of burnout.

Summer also means swimming and time at the beach for some. For those with body image issues, this can be a time of increased anxiety. There is suddenly pressure to feel in a good mood – “hey, the weather’s great – go and enjoy the outdoors.” This “pressure” to feel happy and be active when you’re actually feeling depressed or anxious can for some make matters even worse.

Whether you experience summer depression or not, the warm weather and busy schedules can make it hard to concentrate during the work day, especially for those of us with office jobs. We fight the urge of wanting to go outside instead of being cooped up all day. We may start to find ourselves daydreaming about the evening cookout we are going to attend instead of working on the project due by the end of the week.

If you find yourself experiencing exhaustion, lack of motivation, or difficulty with concentration during the next few months, there may be some techniques you can implement into your day to try to help stay on track. As an example, some of our JAN staff members will take a walk around the nearby neighborhood during their lunch break. This can be a great way to get some fresh air and refocus for the afternoon.

Other ideas that can sometimes help with concentration are getting a cold drink of water to sip on, listening to some background music, downloading an app to help you with time management, or prioritizing tasks. These are just some ideas — there may be a variety of others that could help as well. It’s important to be creative — you know you best.

If you do experience SAD that is triggered in the summer and feel this is affecting your performance at work, you may be able to request some accommodations to help. It’s important to note that impairments related to SAD can be serious for those affected in both private life and in the workplace. JAN’s publication Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Mental Health Impairments offers practical accommodation ideas and examples. You can also speak directly with JAN staff for more individualized assistance.

While the summer months can be enjoyable, they can also be hard for some. Whether you experience summer depression or not, make sure you are taking time for self-care. Even though the days are longer, make sure you are still getting an adequate amount of sleep. If too much sun affects you, there are still plenty of activities that can be done indoors or in the shade. If you feel overwhelmed by your schedule, make a priority list to work in some down time for you and your family. Whatever your preference is during the next few months, make wellness and self-care a priority!

Resources:

Tips for Summer Depression
School’s out. It’s hot. And you’re not having any fun

By: R. Morgan Griffin

Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder: SAD in the Summer
While many get seasonal affective disorder in the winter, 1/10th do over summer

By: Jordan Gaines Lewis

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
By: Mayo Clinic Staff
 

 

Avoiding “The Waiting Place” After Requesting Medical Information

Posted by Kim Cordingly on May 13, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist

In his beloved book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss writes about “The Waiting Place” — an imaginary (or perhaps not) place in life where everyone is waiting for something:

“Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or No…”

In my experience, it seems that employers sometimes feel stuck in this very place when medical information is requested after an employee makes a request for accommodation, during the early stage of the interactive accommodation process.

Medical information isn’t always needed when an accommodation is requested. But, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when the impairment and need for accommodation are not known or obvious, employers do have the right to request documentation that verifies the existence of an impairment; that the impairment affects a major life activity; and that the impairment is substantially limiting in some way. There is no required procedure for employers to follow, or medical certification form that must be used to obtain medical information for ADA purposes. Also, there is no ADA-required time frame for employees to obtain medical information requested by an employer after a request for accommodation. This, in some situations, leads those engaged in the interactive process to…the waiting place.

There are ways to detour the waiting place. One way is to have a comprehensive reasonable accommodation policy that serves as a step-by-step guide for the interactive process and includes time frames for each step — time frames that apply to both the employer and the individual with the disability. As part of the process, employers often require individuals to complete “ADA paperwork” – employer-created documents used to gather information about the individual’s impairment and need for accommodation. This paperwork often includes a request for medical information to support an individual’s request for accommodation. The ADA does not regulate the amount of time employees may take to respond to a request for medical information, and so, an expected return date is a detail that really should be included in a reasonable accommodation policy or procedure, and also on the ADA paperwork.

How much time should an individual be allowed to return ADA paperwork and/or to provide a note from a healthcare provider? Because there is no required time frame under the ADA, I often suggest that employers use the same time frame that applies under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, employers must allow employees at least fifteen calendar days to obtain the required medical certification (USDOL, 2013). Employees who provide incomplete information should be advised why the certification is incomplete and then allowed a reasonable opportunity to remedy the insufficiency — seven calendar days, for example. Of course, under ADA, the timeframe is up to the employer’s discretion, but this is a sensible place to start and allows time for the individual to meet with his or her healthcare provider. Sometimes, it’s not feasible for the individual to arrange an appointment to see a specialist in this amount of time and exceptions may be necessary. If the employee is making a concerted effort to obtain the required information, take this into consideration.

When there are no time frames, it can be difficult to avoid the waiting place, and this often leads to frustration about how to proceed in the interactive process. So, what can be done to avoid being stuck in the waiting place? Consider the following:

  1. Request that medical information be provided within a reasonable time frame. Provide an actual deadline. For example, fifteen calendar days after the employer’s initial request.
  2. Communicate with the employee shortly before the deadline (e.g., five days) to remind the employee, in writing, that the deadline to provide the requested information is approaching.
  3. If the deadline is not met (even after a reminder), issue a notice that explains that sufficient medical information/completed paperwork was not received and is necessary to proceed with the interactive process. Explain why the information is needed. Consider extending the deadline five more days, or for an appropriate number of days given the specific circumstances (e.g., individual has an appointment with his or her healthcare provider after the specified deadline).
  4. As a practical matter, when the impairment and need for accommodation are known or obvious, consider focusing on gathering detailed information about the requested accommodation, rather than asking for unnecessary medical information. When medical information is necessary, ask specific job-related medical questions about the individual’s limitations, ability to perform job duties, and need for accommodation, to make the process of obtaining information more efficient. Simply sending the employee to a healthcare provider with a job description will not yield the most useful information. Address the specific work-related issues in order to obtain sufficient information in a timely manner.
  5. If an accommodation cannot be provided without the requested medical information, because the disability is not known or obvious, it is possible to close or deny a request for accommodation due to failure to receive the necessary medical information. Notify the employee, in writing, why the request was closed or denied.

If the individual’s accommodation request is closed or denied for failing to provide the information, he or she may submit another request at any time. Under the ADA, an individual with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the period of employment because the duty to provide reasonable accommodation is an ongoing one (EEOC, 2002). According to the EEOC, if an individual’s disability and need for reasonable accommodation are not obvious, and he or she refuses to provide the reasonable documentation requested by the employer, then he or she will not be entitled to reasonable accommodation (EEOC, 2002).

For more information about requesting medical information under the ADA, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant, or go to AskJAN.org and see the A-Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Medical Exams and Inquiries.

References:

U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. (2013). Fact Sheet #28G: Certification of a Serious Health Condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Retrieved May 12, 2016, from https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28g.pdf

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2002). Enforcement guidance on reasonable accommodation and undue hardship under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Retrieved May 12, 2016, from http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html