By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) recently held its annual FMLA/ADA Employer Compliance Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Being an ADA/FMLA geek, I always enjoy this event and believe it ranks among the top educational opportunities for those involved in absence and disability management. The Compliance Conference offers employers an opportunity to learn about compliance strategies and practical approaches for implementing the myriad of federal and state leave and disability employment laws. Of course, FMLA and ADA take center-stage at this event so many of the speakers are government officials from relevant policy and enforcement agencies like the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); labor and employment law attorneys; and leave and disability management experts from across the nation.
I appreciate the format of the Compliance Conference, in that, it kicks-off with general sessions offered the entire first day and the morning of the second day. Why is this a smart educational strategy? Offering general sessions for all participants to attend insures that everyone has the opportunity to be informed about compliance updates together without having to pick and choose which sessions to attend based on interests or professional needs. And, unlike many conferences where general sessions are often rather “fluffy,” the general sessions offered during this year’s conference were robust. Practical information was offered by experts who shared examples of court decisions that illustrate recent compliance developments, top challenges for employers in leave and accommodation administration and tools to support these efforts, industry best practices, ways to avoid lawsuits, and strategies for engaging in the interactive process.
This year, a new FMLA compliance assistance guide was announced during one of the general sessions. Helen Applewhaite, Branch Chief, Branch of FMLA and Other Labor Standards, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. DOL, announced that they have released an Employer’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers have long-awaited a guide of this kind to answer common FMLA questions and clarify responsibilities and protections. This guide offers a road map that begins with an employee’s leave request and guides employers from granting leave to restoring the employee to the same or an equivalent position at the end of the leave period. It addresses many complicated FMLA requirements in a practical manner that includes “Did you know?” tips for compliance.
In addition to the new Employer’s Guide, DOL recently issued a new General Notice FMLA poster. All FMLA-covered employers are required to display a DOL poster summarizing the major provisions of the FMLA. Employers are not required to replace their current poster with the new version, but the new version highlights information regarding employees’ rights and employers’ obligations in a more reader-friendly format.
JAN does not offer detailed technical assistance on the FMLA. However, FMLA and ADA issues often overlap, and so, JAN consultants do address some of the more common FMLA issues and refer customers to DOL and other relevant resources for detailed technical assistance. JAN offers a number of FMLA-related resources on our Website, in our A-Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Family and Medical Leave Act, including the new Employer’s Guide and also DOL’s Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act.
According to Autism Speaks, people all over the globe will wear blue and light up their communities for World Autism Awareness Day tomorrow, April 2, 2016.
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks shares this information: Autism is a lifelong condition. In fact, each year 50,000 children with autism transition to adulthood. Many of them are capable of going on to meaningful employment and living on their own. But they need more employment opportunities and housing and residential supports. Autism Speaks continues to work with public and private partners to ensure people with autism successfully transition to adulthood. Together we can make a difference in the lives of people with autism by accepting their many gifts and recognizing the challenges they can face. Autism currently affects 1 in 68 people — these are our loved ones, friends and neighbors. We owe it to them on April 2, and every other day of the year, to make the world a more understanding place. So let’s Light It Up Blue together and shine a global spotlight on autism!
JAN is contributing to the celebration of autism awareness by helping to shed light on autism in the workplace. We have several publications of note that will help in this area. Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder shares various accommodation ideas for impairments that may be associated with ASD such as issues of change, stress management, social skills, and processing sensory stimuli. We also have a Consultants’ Corner: Interviewing Tips for Applicants with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) that can be helpful to applicants when they are looking towards employment and contemplating disclosure and accommodation. Applicants will gain insights on how to be prepared and represent themselves to a prospective employer in the best possible way. JAN also provides contact information on resources that may prove helpful as well.
Check out the JAN staff wearing the autism awareness colors!
By: Sheryl Grossman, Consultant – Motor Team
February 18, 2016, will be forever etched into my brain. This was the day when approximately 130 Jewish disability rights advocates convened in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to discuss where we as a community have been, and where we need to go.
My work at JAN is greatly informed by my Jewish tradition, where we find the work of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7-14) who stated that “the highest level of tzedakah [righteous act, often mistranslated as charity] is helping one help themselves,” or “setting one up in business rather than providing for someone,” or more commonly, “teaching one to fish, rather than giving one a fish.” It was important, and humbling as someone working in the field of work-related disability accommodations to see this be included in the wide array of topics seen as normal in Jewish Community.
As the day’s events unfolded, we received a great history lesson from featured speaker Judy Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. This was enhanced by comments later in the day from Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who was present during the writing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is familiar with how the “religious exemption” (where under Title III of the ADA, religious entities are exempt from having to make their public access facilities accessible) came to be.
The main event of the day centered around four panelists discussing the future of our movement:
Dr. John Winer of the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities talked about making the experience of disability normalized in the community. “People with intellectual disabilities have the right to housing, to an occupation, and to feeling like productive members of society. We need to do the right thing by being beneficent,” he said. “No individual wants to feel like they are a chesed project [charity case].”
Sheila Katz, vice president for social entrepreneurship at Hillel International stressed the need for organizations to be open and transparent about not knowing what they do not know. She shared the vision for Hillel going forward to actively engage Jewish students with a disability in an effort to ensure greater inclusion in campus life, including religious activities.
Aaron Kaufman senior legislative associate at the Jewish Federations of North America made a great point about the fact that some pieces of the inclusion puzzle do cost money, but if we prioritize inclusion, we will find a way to pay for it. This really resonated with me: building a mikveh [ritual bath] costs money, but if the community wants it to happen, we find a way to pay for it. So too with inclusion Aaron pointed out.
Ruti Regan, co-founder of Anachnu, an organization that teaches the Torah from a disability perspective hit the nail on the head by visually demonstrating how an action has a very different connotation in different contexts that are learned behaviors in society. An example she used was that a person with a developmental disability may display a behavior of rocking back and forth – this being perceived as a “problem” or deviation from a norm. In a different context, a person in prayer might be rocking back and forth and this is perceived as devout behavior. Her point was that we need to become aware of how we prescribe meaning (good or bad) to the same behaviors based on the context.
Comments from Shane Feldman, Lauren Tuchman, and Liz Weintraub, amongst others highlighted improvements that have been made and concerns for issues that still need much attention.
All in all, it was an energizing day that I feel sure will just be a springboard for more good inclusion work to come. Many thanks to the White House staff who made this event happen: Matt Nosanchuk and Maria Town – both from the Office of Public Engagement.
By: Kim Cordingly, Lead Consultant
On August 5, 2014, JAN presented a Webcast entitled Best Practices – Employment and Service Dogs: Perspectives from Assistance Dog Experts during International Assistance Dog Week featuring assistance (or “service”) dog experts Dr. Margaret Glenn and Marcie Davis. For those who missed the original Webcast, this presentation is now archived and available in the training section of JAN’s Website.
This is the second installment of a two-part series on the increasingly important role of assistance dogs in the workplace and best practices that support both employee and employer.
Dr. Margaret Glenn is an associate professor in the rehabilitation counseling program at West Virginia University. In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities, her research interests include substance abuse and addiction; alternative health care practices; effective counseling strategies for vocational counselors; and integrative medical and mental health care. In 2012, Glenn was awarded the Switzer Distinguished Disability and Rehabilitation Research Fellowship by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to conduct an exploratory study of assistance dog partnerships in the workplace.
In our conversation, Glenn described her interest in assistance dogs as something that developed organically — partly from a desire to branch out into other areas of research, the need for more information on this topic, and a personal interest in the positive role dogs play in our lives. Little academic research has been done on the use of assistance dogs in the workplace and what factors come into play to make it work successfully from the standpoint of both employer and employee. As an increasing number of people with disabilities seek the support of assistance dogs both in public spaces and workplaces, Glenn felt there needed to be a wider conversation addressing both the benefits and concerns about these arrangements, particularly in the employment arena.
The research from her one-year study is documented in the journal article An Exploratory Study of the Elements of Successful Service Dog Partnerships in the Workplace published in 2013. Glenn’s study explores the research question, “What elements are present in the process of creating service dog partnerships in the workplace.” Based on our conversation and this article, I’d like to highlight a few important takeaways that particularly impact effective employment arrangements.
- Assistance (service) dogs have greatly expanded their “jobs” beyond assisting those with seeing and hearing impairments to include medical response (such as alerting someone to low blood sugar), mobility and task assistance for a person using a wheelchair, psychiatric support for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to name a few. Many of these functions may be for an individual with a hidden disability.
- Dog partnerships in the workplace is new territory for many employers and Glenn highlights anecdotal concerns such as employees with allergies, potential disruption in the workplace, liability issues, a pet being called a service animal when it is not, and daily logistics such as dog relief areas.
- There is frequently confusion between the different titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerning service dogs. Title II and III require covered entities to permit service animals in public spaces. However, Title I (the employment provisions) applies to the workplace and does not require employers per se to allow employees to bring service dogs to work. Instead, the use of service animals is a form of reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Therefore, when an employee asks to bring a service animal to work, the employer should engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine, on a case by case basis, whether the service animal will be allowed.
- Glenn’s research seeks to establish a “baseline” of what components are present in successful dog partnerships in the workplace from the perspective of various stakeholders including service dog trainers, individuals with disabilities partnered with service dogs, and vocational rehabilitation counselors. She points out that a limitation of the study was the absence of employer participation despite seeking their input. Anecdotally, Glenn shared with me a conversation she had with a personal contact (and employer) concerning how he would respond to a service animal in his workplace. She was surprised at the misunderstandings and apprehension surrounding service animal use, but found after a candid conversation on the subject, he recognized the profound benefits.
- Participants in Glenn’s research identified 68 elements they felt were germane to successful dog partnerships. These elements were clustered under the following categories: (1) dog preparation, (2) monitoring, (3) employee competence, (4) legal knowledge, (5) information and education, and (6) coworker preparation.
While not all of these items can be discussed here, a sample of “brainstormed” elements generated by participants include:
– Under dog preparation:
The dog is well behaved; controlled by vocal command.
The service dog has received training appropriate for the specific workplace.
– Under monitoring:
The person who is bringing the dog into the workplace must take responsibility for the dog’s behavior and reinforce appropriate boundaries with colleagues.
The dog’s ability to be invisibly present at work.
– Under employee competence:
The employee or job applicant is able to articulate the specific job related and supportive task(s) that will include the service dog.
For those already working, having a discussion with the employer as part of the decision to obtain a service dog.
– Under legal knowledge:
An informed understanding of the employer’s legal responsibilities and rights related to the decisions associated with a service dog team in the workplace.
A procedure for establishing options in response to coworkers who are allergic to animals.
– Under information and education:
The knowledge that service dogs in the workplace break down barriers and facilitate positive social interactions and workplace relationships.
The involvement of vocational rehabilitation counselors and resources to assist both the business and individual in the modification or adaptation of the workplace.
– Under coworker preparation:
The establishment and respecting of boundaries for the service dog, handler, coworkers, and customers.
A tone set by the supervisor that values and appreciates what a service dog team brings to the employment setting, modeling for the entire workforce.
- The study participants identified the item(s) with the highest importance as those associated with the monitoring cluster, which focused on paying attention to behavior and task completion, care, and hygiene in the workplace to prevent any problems. This also reinforces an ongoing process of either formal or informal assessment with the goal of ensuring a successful workplace partnership.
- As mentioned earlier, Glenn’s research participants outline 68 elements stakeholders felt were important to successful dog partnerships. She writes, “…the service dog partnership is successful when all operate within guidelines that provide recommendations for all concerned.” She goes on to say, “The benefits appear to be many and outweigh any potential barriers, with the right mix of information and innovation on the part of employers and employees alike.”
One interesting point Glenn mentioned was that having an assistance dog does identify you in the workplace as an individual with a disability. Because issues of disclosure can be complicated for an individual with a disability, this might be an issue to consider. Lastly, Glenn noted the expanding role of service dogs for certain constituencies – particularly disabled veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with PTSD, brain injuries, and mobility impairments.
Continued research on the expanding role of assistance dog partnerships in the workplace will play an important role in understanding how to make them work effectively and enhance employment success for employees and employers alike.
Glenn, M. (2013). Exploratory study of the elements of successful service dog use in the workplace. ISRN Rehabilitation, Volume 2013.
JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series: Service Animals in the Workplace
JAN Webcast: Best Practices – Employment and Service Dogs: Perspectives from Assistance Dog Experts
Working Like Dogs
International Assistance Dog Week
Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook
Service Dog Etiquette
By: Lisa Dorinzi – Consultant on Motor/Mobility Team; Sheryl Grossman – Consultant on Motor/Mobility Team; and Kim Cordingly – Lead Consultant on Self-Employment Team
March 3-7 is Telework Week 2014 – a global initiative that strives to raise awareness of the many benefits arising when employers provide the option for their employees to telework. For many employees in the federal government, Telework Week began by working from home during another day of severe winter weather. This proved to be a timely illustration of the benefits of telework to keep a workforce productive even when they aren’t physically able to get to work.
According to the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, the term ‘telework’ or ‘teleworking’ refers to a work flexibility arrangement under which an employee performs the duties and responsibilities of such employee’s position, and other authorized activities, from an approved worksite other than the location from which the employee would otherwise work. This legislation requires federal agencies to implement telework protocol and procedures, which could allow eligible employees the option to work remotely.
As illustrated this week, the option of telework has benefits during bad weather or other emergencies. Additional advantages include saving money on office space and supplies, “going green” by eliminating the commute to and from work, and encouraging work/life balance for employees. These factors may make it easier to recruit and retain workers as well as advancing the goals and mission of the workplace.
Telework as a Reasonable Accommodation
Apart from the overall benefits of telework, it can also be an effective accommodation strategy for employees with disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offers guidance on how telework can be a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For many people with disabilities, telework arrangements can provide years of additional productive work beyond what would have been possible in a standard work setting. In many instances, the essential functions of a job can still be performed from an alternate location and at more flexible times. And, telework has been made a more viable accommodation option by advancements in digital technologies making various forms of communication possible across long distances, even on a shared project. These advancements also serve to reduce previous fears that an accommodation of telework forces isolation from co-workers. When appropriate attention is paid to the effectiveness of an accommodation, win-win situations can emerge.
As a federal collaborator, the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP) at the Department of Defense (DoD) supports telework by providing services and accommodations to eligible federal workers with disabilities and wounded Service members. CAP’s employment initiative describes telework as a form of reasonable accommodation by permitting an individual to perform his or her job remotely. CAP can provide training and consultation, assistive technology, computer hardware and software, and other office telecommunication equipment to allow a person to telework.
Telework can benefit individuals with various medical conditions and the limitations they may face in the workplace. Let’s take a closer look at a few real scenarios fielded by JAN consultants where telework was an effective accommodation option.
Accommodation Examples from JAN Customers
An editor with a vision impairment was not able to drive to work. He lived in a rural area so public transportation was not an option. The employer permitted the employee to work from home. The employee was able to conference call in for important meetings when necessary.
A registered nurse with hearing loss and mental health impairment was experiencing anxiety and sleep disturbances. Her job entailed monitoring home health clients though a computer system and telephone. Her employer allowed her to install the data secured equipment in her home thus enabling her to successfully perform her job tasks while minimizing her symptoms.
A loan officer experienced migraine headaches multiple times a month. The migraines would cause the employee to be fatigued and photosensitive. This was causing the employee to only be able to work for 4-5 hours in the office causing attendance concerns. To minimize absences, the employee was allowed to telework from home where she was able to take self-regulated breaks and work when she felt her best.
An accountant with chronic pain syndrome and a back impairment had a problem sitting at his desk for extended amounts of time. The employee was allowed to work from home a few times a week, which enabled him to alternate positions and build in periodic rest breaks for stretching.
A customer service representative had multiple chemical sensitivity. The various fragrances within the office space were exacerbating the employee’s symptoms. After other options proved unsuccessful – such as a fragrance free policy, air purifiers, and an isolated office — the employee and employer mutually decided telework was the best option.
A paralegal with gastrointestinal issues had flare ups about four times a year. During these flare ups the employee was permitted to work from home, which allowed the employee to use the restroom as needed, but still perform all work tasks.
An insurance agent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would experience flashbacks and anxiety during the two hour commute to work. The employer granted telework as an accommodation, enabling the employee to give her full attention and energy to her work tasks.
For more information regarding the telework option, visit the JAN Website.
Mobile Work Exchange
2013 Status of Telework in the Federal Government – Report to Congress
Telework, Once a ‘Mom Perk,’ Keeps Government Humming During Snow Storms
By: Melanie Whetzel, Senior Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team
The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States, claiming more lives than all forms of cancer combined. For more than 10 years, the American Heart Association has sponsored National Wear Red Day® to raise awareness of the fight against heart disease in women.
Some of us have an abundance of red in our wardrobes. It is a great color. It stands out and draws attention. According to the American Heart Association, the color red can be a confidence booster and make us feel powerful. That may just be the reason they chose the color red to declare the fight against heart disease. It is also the color of our hearts.
2014 marks the 11th anniversary of the National Wear Red Day. Numerous improvements have been made in women’s heart health in the intervening years. They include:
- 21 percent fewer women dying from heart disease
- 23 percent more women aware that it’s their No. 1 health threat
- Publishing of gender-specific results, established differences in symptoms and responses to medications, and women-specific guidelines for prevention and treatment
- Legislation to help end gender disparities
For more information about heart disease and the National Wear Red Day, visit the American Heart Association Website.
Stay tuned for JAN’s next Blog on accommodation situations and solutions for individuals with heart conditions.
For information about JAN and job accommodations, visit our Website at AskJAN.org. For more specific information about accommodations for heart conditions and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), visit Accommodation Ideas for Heart Conditions.
By: Melanie Whetzel, Senior Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month focusing attention on the experiences of individuals with epilepsy and seizure disorders in many aspects of their daily lives, including employment. JAN is offering the following information as a way to highlight the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and accommodation issues pertinent to employees with epilepsy in the workplace.
Are you seeking information on workplace accommodations related to epilepsy and seizure disorders? If you are, you are not alone! JAN has responded to over 330 inquiries so far this year concerning these type of medical conditions. We are your connection to a wealth of information available to assist you. These resources include a recent Webcast on Epilepsy Accommodations that has been archived for viewing; an Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Epilepsy; an EEOC Fact Sheet: Questions and Answers about Epilepsy in the Workplace and ADA; a Consultant’s Corner: Epilepsy, Driving, and Employment; as well as a brand-new Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) page on epilepsy. If you have a specific situation you would like to discuss, JAN consultants can provide one-on-one assistance. There are a variety of ways to access our services. We can be reached through our toll-free telephone line at (800) 526-7234 (Voice) or (877) 781-9403 (TTY); conduct a live online chat; send an E-mail through our JAN on Demand feature; or access us on a variety of social networks. Don’t let your questions go unanswered – contact us here at JAN for personalized expert assistance.