ENews: Volume 13, Issue 1, First Quarter, 2015
The JAN E-News is a quarterly online newsletter. Its purpose is to keep subscribers informed about low-cost and innovative accommodation approaches; the latest trends in assistive technologies; announcements of upcoming JAN presentations, media events, trainings, and Webcasts; and legislative and policy updates promoting the employment success of people with disabilities.
An e-mail announcement is sent to an opt-in list when a new issue is available. Please use the links at the end of this document to subscribe or unsubscribe.
Best Practices in Establishing a Centralized Accommodation Fund
The Significance of Dress Codes under the ADA
- Leave and the ADA
- Sign Language Interpreters
- Current Trends in the Workplace: Considering the ADA and Accommodations for Employees
- New "Who I Am" Public Service Announcement from ODEP
- JAN Blog Growing
- JAN Releases New Resources
- JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
- Subscribe to JAN Newsletter
- Best Practices in Establishing a Centralized Accommodation Fund
- The Significance of Dress Codes under the ADA
- Leave and the ADA
- Sign Language Interpreters
- Current Trends in the Workplace: Considering the ADA and Accommodations for Employees
- New "Who I Am" Public Service Announcement from ODEP
- JAN Blog Growing
- JAN Releases New Resources
- JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
- Subscribe to JAN Newsletter
One of the best practices in hiring and retaining employees with disabilities touted over the past years has been a centralized accommodation fund (CAF). Providing an enterprise-wide general fund to pay for applicant and employee accommodations is one strategy towards increasing employment for people with disabilities. The strategy works by reducing the fear of hiring managers and supervisors that their individual unit or departmental budget will be charged for the cost of the accommodation. Such a charge would effectively reduce their operating budget.
Much of this fear stems from the belief that accommodations are costly. While we know from many studies conducted over the past few decades that the cost of accommodation is not to be feared, many still stubbornly hold on to this myth. In an ongoing study conducted with JAN customers, employers report that a high percentage (57%) of accommodations cost absolutely nothing to make and that the rest typically cost only $500 (Job Accommodation Network, 2014).
While there are a number of articles addressing the challenge of getting hiring manager and supervisor buy-in to pay for the cost of an accommodation, there is scant information about how to actually implement a CAF. This article seeks to provide this information by interviewing and reporting the experience of two companies that have established or are in the process of developing a CAF. The companies interviewed are large enterprises with more than 20,000 employees.
Both companies interviewed suggested multiple internal and external drivers for developing a CAF. One company framed the development of a CAF as an investment in the future of employees, managers, and the enterprise as a whole. Primary to these external drivers was the new Section 503 regulations and the fierce competition for talent in the future. One of the interviewees reported “a fierce competition for a limited pool of talent" so the effort must be made to attract the best workers including from the pool of people with disabilities. As expected, reducing the fear of supervisors in providing accommodations from their department funds was one of the primary drivers for developing a CAF.
However, as important with these two companies was bringing consistency to the overall existing accommodation process. This consistency promised to make the whole process more understandable to all employees but particularly hiring managers and supervisors. One of the company representatives interviewed referred to the process of refreshing the existing accommodation process while instituting a CAF as harmonizing their accommodation policies and practices. Previously, every department within the company processed requests and with so many functional areas there was inconsistency. The new harmonized system insures “no one feels threatened and everyone understands.” While not using the word “harmonizing,” the other company representative explained the fund resulted from a need to streamline current processes including clearly identifying personnel roles and responsibilities.
In each of the companies interviewed, the effort to develop and implement a CAF resulted from the CEO and VP suites understanding the business case. One of the company representatives reported two business cases being developed, one developed during a pilot of the fund in 2005 and the other in 2010 as the CAF processes were refreshed. The 2010 business case included a financial analysis regarding what would be provided by the fund and at what cost. A questionnaire was also developed to globally benchmark others within the industry. The second company representative reported no formal development of a business case. In this company, the CEO understood the global business case and provided leadership to insure VPs made the CAF a priority.
One of the companies has a long standing accommodation process, but starting in 2009, their best practices team looked at the process in order to develop a more consistent, formalized process across business sectors. The group worked closely with the information and communication technology department. One recommendation was for an accessibility officer to be hired in order to insure that the company intranet, website, and applicant tracking system be accessible. In 2011, an effort began to harmonize the accommodation process. Once legitimized by senior vice presidents, this harmonization resulted in the funding of the CAF. The fund was launched before all of the processes were harmonized. The company representative reported “Taking budget out of their hands (hiring managers and supervisors) turned out to be best first step.”
Both company representatives reported buy-in by VPs and managers as essential to the success of the CAF. In one company, Human Resources (HR) spearheaded both the development as well as the communications for the CAF. More specifically, the Senior Vice President of HR approved the centralized fund in consultation with all of the departments touched by accommodations. This consultation enabled the other stakeholders, i.e., benefits, safety, and fleet, to be vested in the fund implementation. One lesson learned included earlier involvement of stakeholders. The second company reported a similar effort although the responsibility for the program resided in the Vice President of Global Corporate Responsibility in partnership with HR. Two other major stakeholders included Vice President of employee self-service and IT services. One stakeholder not yet brought in the CAF implementation in this particular company was Workers Compensation.
The responsibility of communicating information about the development and implementation for the CAF was primarily the responsibility of the leadership in HR or Global Corporate Responsibility. However, once the VP level were vested then they too shared this responsibility. In one of the companies, the CAF was promoted through regular factoids being sent and disability etiquette training provided to 80+ VPs. In this same company, when it was realized that employees were not requesting accommodation, a workplace enablement program was launched to make employees aware of the CAF. Numerous communication efforts were designed to increase knowledge including Enews sent to all employees. Global Corporate Responsibility and HR worked closely with stakeholders to communicate messages about the program.
The biggest challenge reported by this particular company was that of cultural change. The CAF implementation team had a dedicated change management team who met frequently with the employee resource groups (ERG), human resource business partners, and hiring and functional managers. Every step of the way, communication flowed to the 80 VPs, the CEO, the Global Diversity and this communication was through various channels. The ERG also had the responsibility to carry the message. Reportedly, communication insured the big cultural shift that was necessary for CAF implementation.
Important to establishing this fund is setting a budget for the CAF. One of the CAFs was budgeted at $300,000 for the company of 22,000 employees. This budget was established after a pilot project with employees in a specific geographic area. The other company – a federal contractor with more than 65,000 employees - reported their budget being based upon 6% of the employees of that particular sector coming forward to request an accommodation. The company representative suggested developing the budget for the fund was much easier than first thought. Once it was developed then it was submitted to the federal government for approval. This approval was granted.
Central to establishing a CAF is the determination of accommodations to be covered. In one company, their initial fund in 2004 covered communication support, technology, and interpreters. The CAF expanded in 2010 now covers ergonomics, adjustments required of the company’s fleet of cars, and facility modifications. The second company interviewed provided all types of accommodation even considering a workplace personal assistance (WPAS), which is a form of accommodation not often offered by most employers. WPAS is most often offered in the case of external training. The employer would pay for the WPAS as well as any travel related costs such as hotels and meals.
After speaking about the fundamentals of establishing a CAF, I asked the company representatives about the process of accessing the CAF. Both companies used some form of reasonable accommodation tracking technology to manage the CAF. One company used SharePoint to track the accommodation but found that tool wasn’t robust enough because it did not allow for assigning roles. Now they use a segregated mailbox. The other company recently launched an employee accommodations portal for processing requests. This employee accommodations portal uses a customized version of the Simplicity software.
In talking further about the process for requesting an accommodation, both companies reported that requests came from various stakeholders of the organization. The request may come directly from the person with a disability, or from a hiring manager, supervisor, safety department, benefits, physical plant or even a disability vendor. Both companies respond to the request by asking for medical documentation to support the request if appropriate. In one company, requests would be followed up by asking the employee to sign a HIPAA form and then the person who needs the accommodation would be engaged in a conversation about what is needed and why. Once the accommodation request is clear then it is costed out. The request is then forwarded to the department responsible for implementing the accommodation. The final decision is then communicated to the employee with an estimated time frame for implementation. At this point, the employer representative communicates what is going to happen, why it needs to happen, and when it will happen. The accommodation is then charged against the centralized budget.
At the second company, the process for accessing the centralized fund starts with the employee making a request of their manager, service center, medical, or a request may be made directly to the Director of Diversity and Inclusion. In January of 2015, employees will also be able to go to a self-service accommodations portal. The system, says the employer representative, “takes a major headache off of the manager who does not have the expertise in this area.” The portal allows employees to answer a series of questions including if the person is a current employee, where they are located, and what kind of accommodation is being requested – a medical or a mobility accommodation. No diagnosis is required. The company only asks for limitations. The self-service portal contains an array of tools to be requested. This includes services. For instance, an ergonomic assessment is requested then a request for such a service is sent to the Diversity & Inclusion employer representative who will approve the request and then refer the person to a telephonic ergonomic firm that has been contracted to provide an assessment. Depending upon whether an employee discloses a medical or mobility accommodation, the company may or may not engage the employee in a formal reasonable accommodation meeting.
It was interesting to me that neither company reported a challenge related to the purchase of the accommodation. I have heard often that companies were challenged to buy accommodations through their regular procurement system. Delays tended to be the largest challenge. But neither of the companies interviewed reported this problem. One company had an I-buy procurement system, which expedited the purchasing process. The I-buy system eliminates the need for invoicing. The only issue reported was that of purchasing Apps and other software posing a security risk. The company resolved this issue by developing a list of vetted Apps and software programs. The other company representative reported that they capitalize on relationships and partnerships with their technology, facilities, and equipment departments. And, all of these department have direct access to the centralized fund.
In conclusion, let me offer a few best practices in establishing a centralized accommodation fund valid for businesses of all sizes:
- Commitment from C-Suite or VP level is essential to legitimizing the CAF;
- Develop a team of change agents to manage the process of developing and implementing the CAF;
- Communicate to everyone involved the business case for what is being asked of them – it can be formal or informal – but everyone must know why a CAF is being instituted – communicate, communicate, communicate;
- Ask other industry leaders about their benchmarks; this will help in developing your CAF budget;
- Know what accommodation tools and services will be covered by the CAF;
- Harmonize your accommodations process with your CAF process this can bring consistency to your entire process;
- Use technology to track your accommodation requests even if it is as simple as an Excel spreadsheet;
- Consider an expedited procurement system, which again may be a dedicated credit card for accommodation purchases;
- And, bring all the stakeholders into the process from the beginning. Understanding everyone’s concerns and addressing these promptly vests them in the process.
- Louis E. Orslene, MPIA, MSW, CPDM, JAN Co-Director
Dress codes may entail something simple like a requirement that employees wear a specific type of clothing because of the environment or because of the type of business. In a medical facility, for example, registered nurses might be required to wear a certain color and type of medical scrub. In a manufacturing facility, managers may have to wear shirts with their names on them and a different color hat. A transportation company may require a specific uniform or type of shoes. Dress codes may also forbid any jeans or sneakers while requiring business formal attire. Or, dress codes could forbid the wearing of hats, sunglasses, or open-toed shoes. Dress codes establish guidelines for the workplace, but they can vary among industries, regions, and even based on whether the facility is open to the public. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (2011):
Employers may require employees to wear certain articles of clothing to protect themselves, coworkers, or the public (e.g., construction workers are required to wear certain head gear to prevent injury; health care workers wear gloves to prevent transmission of disease from or to patients). Sometimes employers impose dress codes to make employees easily identifiable to customers and clients, or to promote a certain image (e.g., a movie theater requires its staff to wear a uniform; a store requires all sales associates to dress in black). A dress code also may prohibit employees from wearing certain items either as a form of protection or to promote a certain image (e.g., prohibitions on wearing jewelry or baseball caps, or requirements that workers wear business attire).
So, may an employer require that an employee with a disability follow the dress code imposed on all workers in the same job? Most agencies treat dress codes as "conduct rules," but classify them as the type of conduct rule that must be justified as "job-related and consistent with business necessity" before being enforced. So, if a person with a disability requests modification to a dress code as a reasonable accommodation, an employer must consider allowing the modification unless the employer can show that the dress code is required for the job in question.
The EEOC (2011) provides several examples of modification to a dress code as guidance.
- An employee is undergoing radiation therapy for cancer which has caused sores to develop. The employee cannot wear her usual uniform because it is causing severe irritation as it constantly rubs against the sores. The employee seeks an exemption from the uniform requirement until the radiation treatment ends and the sores have disappeared or are less irritating. The employer agrees, and working with the employee, decides on acceptable clothes that the employee can wear as a reasonable accommodation that meet the medical needs of the employee, easily identify the individual as an employee, and enable the individual to present a professional appearance.
- A professional office requires that its employees wear business dress at all times. Due to diabetes, Carlos has developed foot ulcers making it very painful to wear dress shoes. Also, dress shoes make the ulcers worse. Carlos asks to wear sneakers instead. The supervisor is concerned about Carlos’s appearance when meeting with clients. These meetings usually occur once a week and last about an hour or two. Carlos and his doctor agree that Carlos can probably manage to wear dress shoes for this limited time. Carlos also tells his supervisor that he will purchase black leather sneakers to wear at all other times. The supervisor permits Carlos to wear black sneakers except when he meets with clients.
If the employee cannot meet the dress code because of a disability, the employer may still require compliance if the dress code is job-related and consistent with business necessity. An employer also may require that an employee with a disability meet dress standards required by federal law. If an individual with a disability cannot comply with a dress code that meets the “business necessity” standard or is mandated by federal law, even with a reasonable accommodation, he will not be considered “qualified.”
JAN receives many questions related to dress codes. For additional guidance, contact JAN directly.
- Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant
One of the more confusing reasonable accommodation issues that employers have to handle under the ADA is permitting the use of accrued paid leave, or providing unpaid leave, when an employee’s disability necessitates it. The concept can be difficult to grasp because it doesn’t align with the idea of providing an accommodation that keeps an employee on-the-job. However, the goal in allowing the use of leave time as a reasonable accommodation is to provide job-protected time in order to enable a qualified employee with a disability to manage his or her medical impairment and ultimately remain in the workforce.
There are many situations that will require an employer to consider allowing an employee with a disability to use leave as an ADA accommodation, barring undue hardship. Some situations include, but are not limited to:
- when there is no other effective accommodation;
- when an employee is not eligible to take leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) but has a qualifying disability under the ADA;
- when an employee is FMLA eligible but requires additional time off beyond the twelve-week allowance under that statute; or
- when an employee has exhausted paid vacation and sick leave and requires additional intermittent time off because of a qualifying medical impairment.
As a practical matter, an employer may want to first determine if an employee is eligible for leave under FMLA, a state leave law, or company leave policy before granting leave as an accommodation under the ADA. Why? Because FMLA, state laws, and company leave policies traditionally include leave entitlements that are more clearly understood. It can be challenging to determine if, and how much, leave is reasonable under the ADA.
JAN Consultants respond to a variety of questions related to leave and the ADA. Here are some examples of common questions and responses:
Question #1: Can an employer apply its “no-fault” leave policy to everyone?
- No. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), if an employee with a disability requires additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation, an employer must modify its "no-fault" leave policy to provide the employee with additional leave. However, if an employer can show that 1) there is another effective accommodation that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the position (and does not interfere with the employee's ability to address his/her medical needs), or 2) granting additional leave will cause an undue hardship, then the additional leave will not be required. Modifying workplace policies, including leave policies, is a form of reasonable accommodation (EEOC, 1999).
Question #2: Is leave provided as an accommodation required to be paid or unpaid under the ADA?
- Under the ADA, employees may be permitted to use their own accrued paid vacation or sick leave, as-needed, or be granted additional unpaid leave as an accommodation. Paid leave beyond that which is provided to similarly-situated employees is not required. EEOC states that an employee with a disability should be permitted to exhaust accrued paid leave before using unpaid leave as an accommodation.
Question #3: What duration of leave is required under the ADA?
- Unlike the FMLA, the ADA does not require an employer to provide leave for a specified duration of time. Thus, it is up to an employer's discretion to determine how much leave is reasonable as an accommodation. This determination must be fact-specific and will often depend on whether a particular amount of leave time imposes an undue hardship on the employer. An employer should conduct a case-by-case assessment to determine what is reasonable, just like with any other accommodation. This is where it’s important to not simply apply a no-fault leave policy. Under the ADA, an employer must be willing to allow an exception to a fixed leave policy as a reasonable accommodation, barring undue hardship. Employers should document how an employee’s leave impacts business operations. If providing additional leave poses an undue hardship, an employer should be prepared to demonstrate why.
Question #4: Does the EEOC provide any information about how to determine undue hardship related to leave?
- In its Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA, the EEOC offers a number of factors to be considered in determining whether an accommodation imposes an undue hardship (EEOC RA/UH). Regarding leave as an accommodation, an employer will often need to look at the impact the employee’s absence has had/will have on the operation of the business. The most useful undue hardship factors to consider in evaluating leave as an accommodation are those provided by the EEOC related to attendance issues – factors that put a strain on the employer’s operations, such as:
- an inability to ensure a sufficient number of employees to accomplish the work required;
- a failure to meet work goals or to serve customers/clients adequately;
- a need to shift work to other employees, thus preventing them from doing their own work or imposing significant additional burdens on them; or
- incurring significant additional costs when other employees work overtime or when temporary workers must be hired.
It is suggested that employers make an effort to document the impact employees’ absences have on operations. Not from a morale perspective, but rather, an operational perspective. For example, how was the employee’s work completed while s/he was absent? Were production goals met? Was overtime paid to other employees to complete the work? Was the employer unable to provide a service to its customers? Keep a confidential log of this type of information in order to make a fact-specific judgment of undue hardship, if necessary.
Question #5: Can leave be intermittent?
- Yes. Intermittent leave often involves allowing the use of unscheduled, accrued paid leave or unpaid leave, as-needed, due to a qualifying medical impairment. Granting this type of accommodation will typically also require a modification to an employer’s attendance policy to excuse absences permitted as an ADA accommodation. An employer may determine the number of absences that will be considered reasonable and may request medical documentation that includes an estimation of the number of absences that may be anticipated due to the medical impairment. Note, if employees without disabilities are permitted to use their accrued paid leave intermittently, at-will, then employees with disabilities should not be treated differently. Also, FMLA may apply in situations where intermittent leave is required.
- Yes, otherwise the accommodation of leave will not be effective. The ADA requires that the employer hold the employee’s position open while on leave, unless it can show that an undue hardship will result. Upon returning to work, an employee must be permitted to return to the same position, if the employee is still qualified and able to perform essential job functions. This is where a fact-specific assessment will be necessary to determine how long the position can be held before hardship results. Courts have held varying opinions regarding the amount of time that is reasonable for holding a position open; anywhere from several months, to six months, to one year. According to the EEOC, if it is an undue hardship to hold an employee's position while the employee is on leave, then the employer must consider reassigning the employee (absent undue hardship) to an equivalent, vacant position for which s/he is qualified, for the duration of the leave period. The employee would then return to that position when ready to return to work. For more detailed information, see EEOC RA/UH, questions 18 and 21.
Question #7: Is an employer required to maintain health insurance benefits during an extended leave under the ADA?
- According to the EEOC, an employer must continue an employee's health insurance benefits during the leave period only if it does so for other employees in a similar leave status. See EEOC RA/UH, q.21.
Question #8: Should an employer modify its attendance policy when leave is provided as a reasonable accommodation?
- Granting an employee time off from work as a reasonable accommodation may involve modifying leave or attendance procedures or policies. It’s difficult to provide leave as an accommodation (intermittent or extended) without modifying an attendance policy. Thus, these two types of accommodations generally go hand-in-hand. For more information about modifying a policy as an accommodation under the ADA, see EEOC RA/UH, q. 24 and EEOC Performance/Conduct, q. 19.
- Employers frequently ask about their obligation to consider extending an employee’s leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation under ADA. This can result after an employee exhausts twelve weeks of FMLA leave and still cannot return to work. In some situations, an employer may have an obligation under the ADA to consider extending an unpaid leave of absence as a reasonable accommodation. This requires an interactive process to determine – on a case-by-case basis – if the employee has an ADA-qualifying disability, and if it is possible to provide extended leave without it posing an undue hardship on business operations. Under the ADA, there is no specified amount of leave time that is required to be granted and so it is up to an employer's discretion to determine how much leave is reasonable as an accommodation. For example, an extension of two weeks beyond the expired twelve may not have a grave impact on business operations. However, three months may. Again, employers should review and document how an employee’s leave impacts business operations and whether continuing leave poses an undue hardship. If continuing the leave poses a hardship, an employer should be prepared to demonstrate why. For more information, see JAN’s ENews article, ADA Leave Beyond FMLA.
- According to the EEOC, although employers may have to grant extended medical leave as a reasonable accommodation, they have no obligation to provide leave of indefinite duration because granting indefinite leave, like frequent and unpredictable requests for leave, can impose an undue hardship on an employer’s operations. Also, repeated extensions of leave can become a request for indefinite leave. Employers are encouraged to request an anticipated date of return, even if it’s not an absolute return date. Having an anticipated date of return will help the employer make a determination regarding the amount of leave that will be reasonable. For more information see EEOC Performance/Conduct, q. 21 and EEOC RA/UH, q. 44.
JAN offers a new, more in depth, Accommodation and Compliance Series publication regarding leave issues. To learn more about leave issues and the ADA, see JAN’s A to Z By Topic: Leave, including Leave as an Accommodation Under the ADA. If you have questions related to leave and the ADA, or other accommodation and ADA issues, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant.
- Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist
In the short time I’ve been with JAN, I’ve received many calls with questions about sign language interpreters and when they should be provided in the workplace. Some of the more common questions that have been asked are:
- What other accommodations, other than an interpreter, could be provided for interviewing an individual who is deaf?
- While there are other ways to communicate (from simple pen and paper to more sophisticated technology) with individuals who are deaf or hearing impaired, the individual’s preferred means of communication should always be taken into consideration. American Sign Language (ASL) has a different syntax (a different arrangement of words and phrases) than that of the English Language, so a native ASL user may not understand what is being communicated if other means of communication is used.
- Is the employer obligated to provide an interpreter for an employee who is deaf during a holiday luncheon that will be held onsite?
- While sign language interpreters are usually thought of for more important events, such as job interviews, performance reviews, and company meetings, an interpreter should be provided (absent undue hardship) not only for such events, but also for other company events such as trainings, luncheons, and any other company-sponsored event that employees without disabilities have the privilege of attending.
- Can an employer use a current employee who knows sign language to interpret during a training class? Is an employer required to hire an outside interpreter from a professional agency?
- While many individuals, such as co-workers, may be knowledgeable or fluent in sign language that does not mean that they are qualified to interpret for an individual. Sign language interpreters are specially trained individuals who usually hold a specialized degree and may also be certified (certification requirements vary by state). Hiring a qualified Interpreter will ensure that all information is being communicated effectively.
- Who is responsible for providing and paying for a sign language interpreter?
- The EEOC provides good information and examples as to who is responsible for providing and paying for an Interpreter. From the EEOC: Employers must provide reasonable accommodation (e.g., sign language interpreters; written materials produced in alternative formats, such as Braille, large print, or on audio- cassette) that will provide employees with disabilities with an equal opportunity to participate in employer-sponsored training, absent undue hardship. This obligation extends to in-house training, as well as to training provided by an outside entity. Similarly, the employer has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation whether the training occurs on the employer's premises or elsewhere.
Employers arranging with an outside entity to provide training may wish to specify in the contract who has the responsibility to provide appropriate reasonable accommodations. However, if the outside entity fails to provide an interpreter, the employer should go ahead and provide the interpreter and then recoup the costs from the outside entity based on the contract.
Information taken from: http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html#privileges
(For additional information and examples, please see the EEOC Website.)
- A job candidate is deaf and is requesting an interpreter. Do you have any interpreter resources in our area?
Not all sign language interpreters are certified or registered. To locate a sign-language interpreter, contact the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) http://www.rid.org/ at 703-838-0030 V, 703- 838-0459 TTY, or use RID’s search tools to look for an interpreter or interpreter agency/referral service. You can search for agencies by name, city, state, area code, or zip code. It may also be a good idea to contact RID directly to ensure that the information listed on the Website is current.
- For additional information on providing sign language interpreters, please see the Technical Assistance Manual: Title I of the ADA.
- For additional information on job accommodations for individuals with hearing loss, see JAN's A to Z: Hearing Loss.
- For more information or questions related to sign language interpreters, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant.
- Traci Jordan, MS, CRC; Consultant, Sensory Team
As most of us know, trends in the workplace are ever-changing and developing from year to year. JAN recently offered a training on the top ten workplace trends to kick off the annual JAN Webcast series for 2014/2015. The focus of this Webcast was to provide an overview of various up-and-coming trends that JAN consultants are hearing about. This article highlights two of the ten current trends covered in the Webcast: open-plan offices and white noise systems.
Open-plan offices, where cubicle walls and private offices are removed, are intended to increase collaboration, communication, and productivity. The non-traditional design can be a cost-cutting strategy and an attempt to limit the perception of a hierarchical corporate structure resulting in a workforce that is more cohesive and efficient. The trend of opening up an office and removing cubicle walls is growing, but is not without its problems, particularly when it comes to the continuation of accommodations for employees with disabilities. In open-plan workspaces the potential for distractions to increase and for employees to have difficulty concentrating could have an impact on employees with attention deficit disorder, hearing loss, or other sensory or mental health impairments that are triggered or exacerbated by noise.
In terms of the limits to how a workspace is modified, when cubicle walls are removed it becomes even more difficult for the air quality and/or temperature in a person’s workspace to be regulated. Employees who rely on the cubicle walls or an office to help regulate an environment may be impacted by an open-plan workspace.
Yet another concern is in relation to maintaining confidentiality of an employee’s accommodation. This could be problematic if removing cubicle walls or private offices results in exposing accommodations that are in place to coworkers and/or the public. Examples of accommodations that employee’s with various disabilities may be using that would be obvious to coworkers in an open-plan office could include:
- Assistive technology for phone use;
- Software used for accessing information on computer;
- Software used for inputting information on computer; and
- Alternative keyboards, mice, and chairs.
Here is an example to illustrate the impact of modifying an office to make it open-plan:
A financial planner with attention deficit disorder (ADD) and bipolar disorder had been provided with high cubicle walls and a cubicle door as an accommodation to reduce distractions and allow him a private space for phone calls to his counselor. The employer decided that the office design was going to be changed and everyone was expected to work in an open-plan space. After two weeks of sitting in the open-plan space the employee’s productivity started to drop and he requested to have his old space back as an accommodation.
In this situation the employer would need to look at what options might be available to the employee so that he can get back to a point where he is able to be productive at work. This might include creating a separate workspace for him, modifying his schedule so that he is working during hours when the office is not as busy, allowing him to work in a private space-maybe even on an intermittent basis-or allowing telework if the employee does not feel that this would be forced isolation.
White noise systems
White noise systems, sometimes called sound masking systems or speech privacy systems are systems that use a particular type of sound emitted from specially placed speakers to mask unwanted background noise. These products are marketed as a way to limit the distance from which a private or confidential conversation can be overheard, which businesses may find desirable as a means of complying with laws requiring privacy safeguards as well as a means for prevention of corporate espionage.
Most of the systems that JAN consultants have heard about use sound emitters that are placed above ceiling tiles. Some may use smaller, low-profile emitters that could be attached to walls, furniture, or cubical walls. Both emitters function somewhat similarly to the smaller environmental sound machines and tinnitus maskers that you might already be familiar with. They differ in that they are strategically placed in a design that allows them to work together to mask out background noise and enhance speech privacy in large spaces.
In terms of the ADA implications for use of white noise systems in the workplace, there are advantages and disadvantages. Advantages could include: a reduction in distractions from background noise; prevention of breaches of confidentiality; and, for large spaces, they may be cost-effective compared to installing other products, such as acoustic paneling or noise absorption foam.
Disadvantages should also be a factor when considering the installation of a white noise system. For example, these systems may interfere with the functioning of some types of hearing aids. This is largely because sound masking systems don’t provide true noise cancellation; they mask sound by emitting sound, but not by fully canceling it out. Modern hearing aids can actually adjust themselves to prevent damage to the ear from amplifying sounds and, in some cases, noise from a sound masking system may cause this safety feature to become activated. Finally, even for those who do not use hearing aids, individuals may be distracted by the white noise itself if they experience some type of noise sensitivity. Some employees have even mistaken normal functioning of a sound masking system for a malfunction of the building’s ventilation system. Here is an accommodation example:
An employee who used hearing aids reported that white noise from his workplace’s sound masking system was interfering with the functioning of his hearing aids and making it difficult for him understand what others were saying in conversations and in meetings. Attending meetings at multiple locations in the facility to obtain information was an important part of the individual’s job.
A JAN consultant suggested exploring options for adjusting the sound masking system and seeking input from an audiologist to see whether an FM system might help with hearing during meetings.
As always, when employees report that they are having difficulty performing their job because of a disability or medical condition, it may be time to engage in the interactive process and consider reasonable accommodations. From a practical standpoint, having a developed process in place is a way to streamline the entire accommodation process and help insure that effective accommodations are provided. It creates consistency in policy and practice, leads to the implementation of successful accommodations, and shows good faith. The Current Trends Webcast also included five practical tips for providing and maintaining effective accommodations, such as those related to the trends JAN consultants are hearing about. For each of the ten trends discussed in the Webcast, ADA implications with implementing the trend and examples of accommodations related to the trend were provided. In addition to open-plan workspaces and white noise systems, the Current Trends Webcast covered:
- Automatic air fresheners,
- Mobile device policies,
- Bring Your Own Device (BYOD),
- Procedural trends,
- Shared workspaces,
- Accommodations related to emotional support animals,
- Information technology department involvement, and
- “New from EEOC.”
If you, or your organization, are interested in reviewing the Current Trends Webcast in its entirety from JAN's archive.
- Elisabeth Simpson, MS, Senior Consultant, Motor Team
6 - New "Who I Am" Public Service Announcement from ODEP Now Airing on Television Stations Around the Country
The PSA features nine people with disabilities who are not defined solely by their disability but instead by their many life roles — including working in jobs they love. The participants in the “Who I Am” PSA remind us that recognizing the value they add to the workplace fosters a work culture welcoming of the talents of all individuals. Fostering a work environment that is flexible and open to the talents of all qualified individuals, including those with disabilities, actually promotes workplace success for everyone. What can YOU do to help promote inclusion and opportunities for people with disabilities in the workplace?
Show your support by encouraging your local television stations to air the “Who I Am” PSA. “Who I Am” reminds us to see one another for who we are and what we can contribute. The PSA will positively impact television viewers and empower those with disabilities—especially those with non-apparent disabilities—to bring their whole selves to everything they do—including their work. The CDE invites you to encourage stations to air the PSA by sending a letter or e-mail to your local television stations. The CDE offers a template letter to make it easy. Click here to download the letter. To learn more about the CDE and to view the “Who I Am” PSA, visit http://whatcanyoudocampaign.org.
The Ask JAN Blog provides an opportunity for you to share with others your workplace accommodation solutions. JAN receives over 40,000 contacts per year – conversations with all of you that help us better understand what’s working effectively in your workplaces. We have a great deal to learn from one another. We encourage you to share your experiences and interact with the JAN staff. Your accommodation success stories can benefit many others around the Nation. Enjoy the new postings and additional Spanish selections:
- Campaign for Disability Employment “Who I Am” PSA Airing Nationally.
- Elevating Lift Office Chairs.
- Allergy Reminder for End of Year
- Employer Perspective – On the Benefits of Mentoring
- Don’t Break the Bank in 2014 — Low Cost Accommodations Do Exist!
- JAN Publishes Just-In-Time Training Module on PTSD.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how an individual with PTSD can effectively work with job accommodations is often misunderstood. Employers and employees with disabilities can greatly benefit from exploring successful accommodation ideas and how they benefit the workplace. This 25 minute training module and accompanying transcript will cover information on PTSD, accommodation ideas, and workplace situations and solutions. This module can be used to train new accommodation specialists, disability managers, and others responsible for making accommodation decisions. Trainees can view the module at their computer or use the module as part of a larger training. >> View now.
- JAN Releases Webcast Archive Series.
- JAN Releases New and Updated Documents. Learn more about Eating Disorders and Communication Tips for Working with Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities. >> Download this document and more from JAN's Comprehensive List.
- Spanish Library. JAN updates its Spanish library. Look for new publications coming to JAN's library of documents and other postings. >> Download a JAN document in Spanish.
- Resolving to Expect the Best – Assistant Secretary Martinez’s Blog. The importance of high expectations for youth with disabilities was the theme of a January 16 blog post by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez. "Young people with disabilities can benefit from hearing—early and often—that they can and will go to school, pursue a career and achieve their life goals," said Martinez. She highlighted the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) as a resource for employers who want to hire youth with disabilities as interns or permanent employees, and shared the success story of former WRP intern Daman Wandke. >> Read the blog.
- ODEP's ePolicyWorks Wins Ideascale Best Engagement Strategy Award. Ideascale has named the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) as the 2014 winner of their Best Engagement Strategy Award for its ePolicyWorks online collaboration tools, including their series of national online dialogues. During the past year, ODEP has launched seven dialogues addressing a number of issues related to disability employment, including improving accessibility in workplace social media, engaging employers in hiring people with disabilities, improving access to transportation for veterans with disabilities, and finding ways to encourage young people with disabilities to pursue careers in STEM. These dialogues enable ODEP to efficiently enlist the public's input on key policy issues related to the employment of people with disabilities by channeling the brainpower of its federal partners, nonprofits, advocacy groups and other stakeholders. >> Read more.
- 2015 Workforce Recruitment Program Now Open to Employers. Private businesses and federal agencies nationwide seeking qualified temporary and permanent job candidates from a variety of fields can now access the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), a free database of about 1,800 postsecondary students and recent graduates, including veterans, who are eager to prove their abilities in the workplace. Federal employers can search the database directly at WRP.gov; private employers can use WRP.jobs, where they can post permanent and temporary positions, and WRP students can search and apply for these positions using employers' standard application processes. Only pre-screened WRP students have access to postings on WRP.jobs. >> Learn more.
- 10 Things You Want to Know about Federal Government Employment. JAN is #8! Congratulations, you got the job! Now you have to do it. For many people with disabilities this means working with your employer to create workplace supports and accommodations, so you can be as productive as possible. There are many resources that guide employees on how to ask for accommodations and what to ask for based on particular disabilities. One such resource is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is a full service employment accommodation resource center for people with disabilities and employers. JAN offers information by disability, as well as comprehensive resources on topics affecting the entire employment life cycle. >> Read the Disability Connection Newsletter.
- LEAD Center Publishes Quarterly E-newsletter LEAD On! The LEAD Center published its quarterly e-newsletter LEAD On! which highlights news and innovations in employment, policy, and economic advancement for people with disabilities. >> Learn more about the Center.
- 2013 Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch Report. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has released the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Employment of People with Disabilities in the Federal Executive Branch Report! >> Learn more in the compelling report.
Events of particular interest: Get the most up-to-date and comprehensive training on employing people with disabilities. To view the complete JAN travel schedule go to JAN-on-the-Road.
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This document was developed by the Job Accommodation Network, funded by a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (DOL079RP20426). The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Nor does mention of tradenames, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Labor.