By: Daniel Tucker, Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
April is Autism Awareness Month, and in honor of that, we wanted to touch on how to accommodate employees with ASD by incorporating disability awareness training into the process. In many cases, the problem an employee may be having at work is related to social interaction and communication. Because individuals with ASD may have deficits in understanding social cues and norms of communication, they may have difficulty working effectively with coworkers. Something employers may want to consider in such circumstances is providing disability awareness training. This could be a broad training that covers disabilities generally, but in some cases, it may be beneficial to have a training specific to the disability. This will allow an employee (with his consent) to be a part of the training process and to explain how the disability specifically affects him. This empowers the employee to suggest steps that may be taken to help with more effective interaction and communication.
When coworkers are not aware of the characteristics of ASD, miscommunication can easily arise. For example, in some cases an individual with ASD may speak louder than is appropriate in a given situation. This could be perceived as aggressive or dominant behavior by coworkers, when in fact the employee doesn’t even realize he is speaking loudly. An individual with ASD may also seem to display inappropriate affect, such as not smiling when greeting someone. These behaviors can be considered rude, but in actuality, the individual may have no idea that his actions are being perceived this way; his behavior is simply being misunderstood.
Disability awareness may be able to address this particular issue to some extent because when coworkers are aware of the unique communication differences that individuals with ASD exhibit, they may be more tolerant and able to find better ways to interact and ensure they are being understood by the employee as well. It may be beneficial to have agreed upon “signal words” that a coworker can use when the employee is speaking too loudly, for example. The employee can then rely on the feedback of coworkers to make adjustments as needed.
It is important to stress that this type of training should only be done with the permission of the employee. Employers should not try to push an employee into talking about a disability if he is not comfortable doing so. It has been our experience at JAN that many employees would appreciate the opportunity to have an open conversation about their disability if it means the possibility of better working relationships with coworkers and a better chance of being successful in their work.
By: Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist
Congratulations, you’re having a baby! You’re overwhelmed with thoughts about designing a nursery, buying baby clothes, diapers (lots of diapers), and meeting your baby for the first time. Pregnancy can be a joyous and exciting time, but it can also present challenges for some workers who experience limitations or complications associated with their pregnancy. This can lead to the need to request job-related changes at work to help you meet the demands of the job and stay-on-track with the pregnancy. Workers who are pregnant should engage in an interactive process with their employer to identify ways to manage the potential impact of pregnancy-related limitations on the performance of their job functions.
Before engaging in an interactive process with your employer, learn about the various laws that offer workplace protections for pregnant workers. You don’t have to be an expert in the laws, but it helps to know which laws can apply to your situation. For example, you may be entitled to job modifications/reasonable accommodations under federal laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You may also be eligible for unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). There are also many state and local non-discrimination, pregnancy-disability, and family leave laws that apply to workers who are pregnant.
Under the PDA, a covered employer is responsible for making job-related modifications [also thought of as accommodations] for pregnant workers that are similar to those made for other employees who are temporarily unable to perform job functions. The duty to request a change in job duties falls on the employee who is pregnant. An employer can request reasonable documentation of the employee’s limitations if this is what the employer requires of employees who seek workplace changes for reasons other than pregnancy. A change in duties may include light duty, alternative assignments, additional breaks, or unpaid leave, if these types of modifications are provided to other workers who are not pregnant but are similarly limited.
Pregnancy alone is not considered a disability under the ADA (because it is not an impairment), but a worker who is pregnant can be protected under the ADA in some situations. Changes in the interpretation of the definition of the term “disability” resulting from enactment of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) make it easier for workers who are expecting who have pregnancy-related impairments to demonstrate that they have disabilities for which they may be entitled to reasonable accommodation under the ADAAA (EEOC, 2014). For example, a pregnant employee may be entitled to reasonable accommodation for substantial limitations resulting from pregnancy-related complications, or for limitations resulting from an exacerbation of an existing impairment, due to pregnancy (e.g., pregnancy-related anemia, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, substantial lifting restrictions, bed rest, etc.). Accommodations can include a modified schedule, ability to have snacks or drinks at a workstation, a modified attendance policy, frequent breaks, light duty, or leave, among other solutions.
When a job-related change is needed at work because of limitations or complications associated with pregnancy, it is suggested that these changes be requested in writing. Sometimes it’s useful to have a paper trail in case there is a dispute about whether or when you requested an accommodation. Support your request with information from your medical provider regarding your limitations and restrictions. No particular law must be mentioned in your letter, but you’ll want to explain what medical limitations are affecting your ability to perform job functions. This is sufficient to establish a request for accommodation and then that is when the interactive process begins.
JAN offers a document to guide employees in drafting a written request for accommodation. This document is ADA-focused, but can be used as a guide to make a written request for job-related modifications in general, under the PDA or other laws, if ADA is not applicable. For more information see JAN’s How to Request an Accommodation.
After an accommodation is requested, an employer must determine if the employee qualifies and if the accommodation that is being requested is reasonable. Employers are not required to change or eliminate essential job functions or lower production standards as a reasonable accommodation. An employee who is pregnant can be held to the same production standards as others in their job category. For information about accommodation ideas for workers who are pregnant, see the JAN Website.
JAN Consultants can assist workers who are pregnant and their employers by offering information and technical assistance regarding applicable laws, guiding them through the interactive process, and providing accommodation solutions and resources. For additional guidance, contact JAN directly. To learn more about your rights under the PDA, ADA, FMLA, and state laws, see the following resources:
Pregnancy Discrimination Fact Sheet
EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (EEOC, 2014)
Questions and Answers about the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues
The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage & Hour Division — FMLA information
The U.S. Department of Labor also maintains a Website that provides information about state-level employment protections for workers who are pregnant or nursing.
By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. The theme for the 2015 to 2017 campaign is: Not Alone.
The Not Alone campaign provides a platform for educating the general public about the incidence of brain injury in the U.S. and the needs of people with brain injuries and their families. The campaign also lends itself to outreach within the brain injury community to de-stigmatize the injury, empower those who have survived, and promote the many types of support that are available.
The Job Accommodation Network has just released a brain injury training module this month in conjunction with the national awareness campaign. This module will be helpful to employers, employees, family members, and others who are interested in information on the potential impact of a brain injury on an employee’s experience in the workplace. In particular, the module presents information on effective accommodations that can be provided to help employees with brain injuries be more successful in the workplace. Our hope is that this training module will educate and promote a better understanding of brain injuries and the impact they have on employment.
In this module, you will find information on:
- Disclosing a brain injury to an employer;
- Understanding the three reasons why it might be necessary to disclose a disability and how to go about doing so;
- Learning about the medical information that may be required by the employer;
- Discovering effective accommodations for physical and visual limitations and difficulties with maintaining stamina and concentration;
- Exploring accommodation options for organizational and problem-solving challenges, as well as memory difficulties and handling change, stress, and emotions.
Real-life situations and solutions are interspersed throughout the module to help show how practical and successful accommodations can be.
In addition to the training module, the JAN Website includes a variety of resources on accommodations ideas for brain Injury in the workplace.
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
For some, the month of February is about expressing love for family, friends, and even co-workers. For others, February is about thawing out from the cold and dark of winter and beginning to realize results from health commitments made in the New Year — to eating a healthier diet, exercising more regularly, and improving overall heart health.
However, for those who have experienced a heart attack, atrial fibrillation, or other heart conditions requiring a pacemaker to assist in maintaining a normal rhythm, February like any other month is a time to focus on the love of one’s work and new heart related concerns. This may seem particularly daunting to those who work around utility lines, strong electrical/medical equipment, or near the potential for a spark, like when welding. Electro-magnetic radiation emanating from these devices may cause electro-magnetic interference (EMI) that can interrupt the pacemaker’s functioning.
Fortunately, advances in occupational safety allow for job accommodations that may not have been possible years ago. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) provides many suggestions for working around electrical appliances, cellular telephones, medical devices, and when working as arc welders if an individual has a pacemaker.
Due to increased exposure of those with pacemakers to EMI-producing elements in their day to day lives, pacemaker manufacturers have responded with more and better implant protection; however, this cannot protect against all incidents of exposure. For this reason many people using pacemakers also use an EMI detector to warn them of an EMI source above the threshold for their implanted device in the near vicinity. Most individuals will experience only minor and temporary interference with their implants when exposed and this will most often disappear as they move away from the source of the interference.
Employers can assist these individuals who are returning to work by:
- Ensuring electrical appliances and equipment are well-maintained to prevent leakage and sparking;
- Shielding gas-powered generators and gas-powered saws;
- Providing EMI protective gear for these workers;
- Providing electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) blocking/shielding devices and appropriate long-corded, headsets for cellular telephones;
- Allowing the use of an EMI detector and the ability for one to move away from an area if the alarm goes off.
On the JAN Website, you can find additional tips for accommodating people using pacemakers in the workplace.
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
For the past 7 years, February has been designated as National Jewish Disability Awareness Month in the United States. Across the country, Jewish organizations have initiated programming and embarked on construction projects aimed at creating fully inclusive communities, including the world of work. While there are hundreds of organizations participating in this nationwide effort, we’d like to highlight two of these that have focused in particular on employment.
RespectAbilityUSA is a national, non-profit organization working to enable people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, in her role as president states, “Indeed, Jews with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, even if they face different challenges. Many people with disabilities can be fantastic employees — when they are fully welcomed and included.”
She goes on to say, “People with disabilities bring unique characteristics and talents to workplaces that benefit employers and staff.” She continues, “The majority of working age people with disabilities want to work and they deserve the opportunity to achieve the American dream.” To this end, RespectAbility has introduced a toolkit to assist those with disabilities to obtain competitive employment.
Ruderman Family Foundation
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, is looking to achieve full inclusion in all aspects of community life. He emphasizes, “The surest path to full inclusion in our society comes from meaningful employment. People with disabilities are the most excluded members of our society because they are unemployed at the rate of 70 percent.” As a result, he said, “We must hold up as shining examples those employers who have demonstrated a commitment to hiring people with disabilities.” The Ruderman Family Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Week Media Group, has now launched its “Best In Business Campaign” to do just that.
While February is National Jewish Disability Awareness Month, inclusion happens 365 days per year. For tips on how your business can be fully inclusive by hiring and retaining more workers with disabilities, visit the JAN Website.
By: Elisabeth Simpson, Senior Consultant – Motor Team
Between Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month, February is a time of year when connecting with others and taking care of ourselves is pushed to the forefront. So what better way to connect with others while keeping your heart healthy than to find your heart-healthy buddy in the workplace? Having a colleague or co-worker who is in the same boat as you or just wants to develop a healthier lifestyle can have a positive impact on your heart, other areas of health, and even on how you do your job.
According to the American Heart Association, about 80 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure (HBP) (American Heart Association, 2014). Even though HBP doesn’t typically have any symptoms associated with it, there can be deadly consequences for not treating this disease. On a positive note, HBP is a disease that can be prevented and treated. The AHA offers a list of eight suggestions for controlling HBP.
- Eat a better diet, which may include reducing salt
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Avoid tobacco smoke
- Comply with medication prescriptions
- If you drink, limit alcohol
- Understand hot tub safety
So how do we integrate these preventative measures into our work life routines where stress can be constant and various factors limit how well we take care of ourselves during the workday? JAN’s suggestion: Find a “heart-healthy buddy!” It can be hard to start a new routine and stay on track. Finding a co-worker who is interested in making or maintaining healthy lifestyle choices can be a great support system.
Here are 5 tips for maintaining a healthy heart in the workplace with your heart-healthy buddy that address a number of the tips for controlling HBP provided by the AHA.
- Meet up at lunch for a short walk, yoga, meditation, etc.
We know it can be hard to step away from the desk and take advantage of the breaks provided, especially when the temperature starts to drop! But physical activity not only helps to control HBP, it helps manage weight, strengthen the heart, and manage stress levels (AHA, 2014). Even short periods of exercise can make a difference! The AHA (2014) recommends that those who need to lower their blood pressure or cholesterol aim for 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity 3 to 4 times per week, with physical activity being performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes. Flexibility and stretching exercises are also suggested (AHA, 2014). Of course, those with chronic conditions should talk with their healthcare provider before increasing their activity level. Once you have the go-ahead, put that smart phone down, give the computer a break, and get moving!
- Hold each other accountable for meals at work including lunch, parties and celebrations, and off-site employer sponsored events.
You get busy during the morning and forget to pack a lunch. Next thing you know, it’s 11:45 am and you are starving. What to do? Are you tempted to call up the local pizzeria and have that meatball hoagie you love so much delivered right to your office? And what about those holiday parties, monthly birthday celebrations, and work retreats? It can be hard to resist the pot-luck casseroles and cakes without having someone holding you accountable. Knowing that your heart-healthy buddy will be there for support, and vice-versa, can make the decision-making process easier at events where it is especially hard to pass on the homemade cupcakes you both love so much!
- Swap heart-healthy dinner recipes.
The AHA has indicated that eating a heart-healthy diet is important for managing your blood pressure and reducing your risk of heart attack, heart disease, stroke and other diseases (AHA, 2014). But after a long day of work it can be daunting to think about preparing a meal that is heart-healthy and easy to make. One way to take the stress out of meal planning can be to swap your favorite heart-healthy meals with your buddy. If you have the time, planning out your menu for the entire week over the weekend or even prepping parts of the meal can be helpful.
- Take turns bringing in heart-healthy snacks that can be shared.
Mid-afternoon hunger pains can get the best of us and making a stop at the snack machine can be hard habits to break. The AHA (2014) recommends consuming less than 1500 mg of sodium a day, which is less than ¾ teaspoon of salt per day. Raw vegetables and fruits can be a great alternative to chips and salted nuts and are great for sharing. The AHA offers free recipes online that include snacks and appetizers including a Greek yogurt dip and hummus to go with fruits and vegetables shared during an afternoon break with your heart-healthy buddy (AHA, 2014).
- Offer support to one another to help manage stress.
Although stress is not a confirmed risk factor for either high blood pressure or heart disease (AHA, 2014), managing stress in the workplace can help to reduce emotional discomfort or anxiety that results from feeling stressed. One way to combat stress during the workday is to be mindful of when you are feeling stressed and employ techniques to reduce stress. This can include talking with your heart-healthy buddy about what triggers your stress, how to mitigate the effects of stress, plans for managing stressful events that can’t be changed and, brainstorming how to solve problems that contribute to stress.
Following these tips and getting support from a heart-healthy buddy may help you to feel better while at work and have a positive impact on the work that you do. Of course, if there are accommodations that can be made in the workplace that are needed because of a heart condition your employer may need to provide them, absent undue hardship. Visit the JAN Website for more information on heart conditions and accommodating employees with heart conditions.
American Heart Association. (2014). High Blood Pressure. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/High-Blood-Pressure-or-Hypertension_UCM_002020_SubHomePage.jsp.
By: Beth Loy, Ph.D. – Principal Consultant
For individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it can be difficult to take a deep breath at times. This difficulty may be triggered by temperature changes, humidity levels, contaminants, pollution, chemical fumes, and the performance of a strenuous task. COPD is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, making it hard to breathe (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2013). Millions of people have been diagnosed with varying levels of COPD. However, with advancement in oxygen portability, medications, and therapies, many individuals are continuing to work after a diagnosis.
High air quality is very important for those working with COPD. To improve air quality, workplace accommodations can include: air purifiers, fragrance-free common areas, and fresh air breaks. Fans can also help circulate air in confined areas. Telework and a modification of work schedule can also be helpful during times of inclement weather, such as excessively hot or cold temperatures.
Location of workstation can also be important to someone with COPD. Being close to food areas, restrooms, cleaning materials, and maintenance areas can cause odors that are hazardous to someone with COPD. Keeping a work area free of pollutants such as cleaning agents, pesticides, exhaust fumes, and tobacco smoke will improve air quality.
Use of oxygen at work is often a consideration when accommodating an employee with COPD. Besides compressed oxygen gas in a tank or cylinder, many portable and stationary concentrators are now available for use, making it easier for someone with COPD to use supplemental oxygen outside of the house. This could include work-related travel. Accommodations may need to be made to arrange for the transport of an employee’s oxygen when the employee is required to travel for work. This may include talking with hotels, airlines, and other facilities regarding what is needed for the employee to carry oxygen. Safety is always an important consideration with oxygen use, including accessing a safe electrical connection and keeping oxygen canisters and other devices away from an open flame. Often, an oxygen supply company will do an on-site visit regarding safe usage upon request.
For more information on how to have supplemental oxygen in the workplace, see: Oxygen Therapy Safety Tips: Preventing Fires and Other Accidents.
Other resources that might be helpful:
Because COPD can have such serious effects on an individual, it may also be linked to anxiety and depression. The lifestyle changes that accompany the disease cause physical as well as mental challenges. For more information on accommodations for individuals with anxiety and depression, see JAN’s Accommodation Information by Disability: A to Z. For additional information on accommodation ideas, contact JAN directly.
By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant – ADA Specialist
The new “Who I Am” public service announcement from the Office of Disability Employment Policy’s Campaign for Disability Employment is 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.
While the “Who I Am” PSA is intended for television broadcast, the CDE would like to see the PSA and its important message distributed as widely as possible. To facilitate this outreach, everyone is encouraged to share the “Who I Am” PSA by accessing the PSA section of the Website. There are English and Spanish versions of the PSA available in both audio introduced and open captioned formats. Also, as part of the “Who I Am” Outreach Toolkit, the CDE will soon offer accompanying posters and discussion guides, which will include DVD copies of all PSA formats.
Another way to participate in the CDE’s effort is to promote inclusion by sharing the diverse factors that make you who YOU are. Whatever unique identities you bring with you to work each day, chances are you’ve drawn upon many of them to do your job better, whether consciously or not. Because everyone can add value to the workplace, the CDE has launched the Ask Me Who I Am public engagement effort, which asks everyone to use hashtag #WhoIAmPSA to share one or more of their diverse identities to demonstrate the various skills and talents all workers can contribute. Join the effort by sharing what factors make you who YOU are.
The Campaign for Disability Employment is a collaborative effort to promote positive employment outcomes for people with disabilities by encouraging employers and others to recognize the value and talent they bring to the workplace. Stay current on the CDE’s initiatives by following the Campaign for Disability Employment using Twitter and Facebook. To learn more about this campaign and to view this and other PSAs, visit the CDE Website.
By: Linda Batiste, Principal Consultant
For years, JAN consultants searched for an office chair that can elevate while a person is seated in the chair and that also has a braking system to prevent the chair from moving when a person is getting into or out of the chair. A chair with such features could be useful for employees with various motor impairments working in all sorts of jobs. For example:
A bank teller with multiple sclerosis uses a motorized scooter, but must work at a standing height. She needs to transfer into a chair and then raise up to the height of the teller workstation. The chair needs to stay in place while she is transferring, but then allow movement once she is seated.
A cashier with cerebral palsy and lower extremity limitations cannot stand for long periods, but has to work at a standing height. He cannot get up on a standing-height stool, plus he needs more support than offered by a stool; he needs an ergonomic chair that can raise him up to the proper height.
A little person works in an office setting with shared workspace. She needs a chair that will raise and lower her to average desk height while she is seated in the chair.
Happily, JAN consultants recently found a couple options for these types of accommodation situations:
The first is called the VELA Tango, which is a chair that has a both a locking mechanism to stabilize it as needed and a motorized lifting mechanism that operates with a person seated in the chair. If you want to see the chair in action, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSQsBflJIU4.
The other option is an elevating office chair from Clark Medical. This one is basically a lift with an ergonomic chair attached. The company will also custom mount other chairs to the lift if preferred.
And if you know of any other office chairs that can be raised and lowered with a person seated in them, please let us know!
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant, Sensory Team
It’s that time again! With all the festivities at the end of the year, we may be tempted to bring in those leftovers or wear that new perfume, but what may seem like a nice gesture or harmless fun can turn deadly if someone in the workplace is allergic.
If your business has a fragrance-free policy in place, this is a good time to remind folks about it.
If your business does not currently have a policy, this may be a good time to institute one.
Sample policy language can be found at: Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Fragrance Sensitivity.
The additional following general policies may be good starting places:
1. Ensure that all employer controlled spaces are fragrance-free:
- Remove air fresheners from bathrooms
- Use only fragrance-free soaps in bathrooms and kitchens
- Provide hand lotion and hand sanitizer for employee use, ensuring only fragrance-free types are used
- Ensure frequent and appropriate cleaning of workspaces with fragrance-free/chemical-free cleaners
2. Ensure that all employer controlled maintenance, repair, and remodeling are fragrance/chemical-free:
- Use fragrance/chemical-free insecticide/pesticides
- Use fragrance/chemical-free industrial cleaning agents
- Use fragrance/chemical-free glues, sealants, waxes, and paints/stains
3. Ensure that all employer controlled spaces are free of known food allergens:
- Do not permit foods with known allergens onsite
- Provide all food on premises
- Provide ample off-time for lunches to be done offsite
- Provide designated, well-ventilated area for all food to be stored, prepared, and eaten
Additional information regarding accommodating people with fragrance/chemical sensitivities can be found on the JAN Website.
Additional information regarding accommodating people with food allergies can be found there as well.
Here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy rest of 2014 from the JAN family!