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Accommodation and Compliance Series:
Employees who are Aging

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Introduction

JAN’s Accommodation and Compliance Series is designed to help employers determine effective accommodations and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each publication in the series addresses a specific medical condition and provides information about the condition, ADA information, accommodation ideas, and resources for additional information.

The Accommodation and Compliance Series is a starting point in the accommodation process and may not address every situation. Accommodations should be made on a case by case basis, considering each employee’s individual limitations and accommodation needs. Employers are encouraged to contact JAN to discuss specific situations in more detail.

For information on assistive technology and other accommodation ideas, visit JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://AskJAN.org/soar.

Information about Aging Workers

Who is an older worker?

In 2009 (the latest year for which data are available), nearly 40 million Americans are over age 65, which is about one in every eight Americans (U.S. Administration on Aging, n.d.). Whether for monetary or social reasons, many individuals continue working after age 65. There are several federal employment laws that could protect these older workers from discrimination. These include the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Older Americans Act of 1965 (OAA), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) of 1967, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which requires employers to provide accommodations for older workers with disabilities.

What are the benefits of hiring older workers?

Though it may be a legal requirement that employers make accommodations for their aging workforce, it also makes good economic sense. Older workers are a vital segment of today's workforce. The Older Workers Survey (SHRM, 2003) reported several possible advantages to hiring older workers:

Why are accommodations for older workers important?

Whether for monetary or social reasons, many individuals continue working as they age. Because of this older workers remain a vital segment of today’s workforce. Some individuals have retired from one form of work and chosen to switch careers or work part-time to earn extra money and maintain insurance benefits, keep active, learn new skills, or socialize. With the aging of the baby-boom generation, the average age for workers will increase, and the likelihood that more employees will be managing a disability increases.

What conditions may be associated with older workers?

Arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, dementia, and hypertension are among the most prevalent conditions that increase with age (Abel, 2005). Age-related limitations can involve a wide range of conditions, including depression and anxiety, addiction, repetitive use, and other cognitive, sensory, and physical limitations.

What accommodations may older workers need?

Older workers may need accommodations related to activities of daily living, the psychological aspects of aging, and job performance. Limitations may be from aging, returning to work after an injury, the occurrence of a primary disability, the exacerbation of a long-term impairment, and/or prevention of a secondary impairment. Many older workers, however, will continue to work at full production with no limitations and no need for accommodations.


Aging Workers and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Is aging considered a disability under the ADA?

Aging, by itself, is not an impairment, but a person who has a medical condition (such as hearing loss, osteoporosis, or arthritis) often associated with age has an impairment on the basis of the medical condition. A person does not have an impairment, however, simply because (s)he is advanced in years.

The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet (EEOC Regulations . . ., 2011). Therefore, some people with age-related impairments will have a disability under the ADA and some will not.

A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment (EEOC Regulations . . . , 2011). For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, visit http://AskJAN.org/corner/vol05iss04.htm.

Accommodating Employees who are Aging

Note: People with limitations from aging may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people who are aging will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.

Questions to Consider:

  1. What limitations is the employee experiencing?
  2. How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
  3. What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
  4. What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
  5. Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
  6. Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
  7. Do supervisory personnel and employees need training??

Accommodation Ideas:

Activities of Daily Living:

Fatigue/Weakness:

Gross Motor Impairment:

Hearing Limitations:

Medical Treatment Allowances:

Maintaining Concentration:

Muscle Pain and Stiffness:

Psychological Aspects of Aging (Depression and Anxiety):

Respiratory Difficulties:

Vision Limitations:

Situations and Solutions:

An individual with osteoarthritis and walking limitations had difficulty accessing the work-site. The employer contacted JAN asking for ways to improve access. JAN suggested an accessible parking space, office close to the entrance, and moving the individual closer to the common office equipment area.

A social worker with Type 2 diabetes was experiencing vision loss. The individual requested a reduced workload. The employer contacted JAN looking for alternatives to lowering productivity standards. JAN suggested stand magnification equipment for reading print materials and screen magnification software for reading from the computer screen.

A bus driver recently diagnosed with sleep apnea asked for a light duty position. The employer contacted JAN asking for other options. JAN suggested a flexible schedule, temporary reassignment to shorter bus runs, and time off for treatment.

A child care worker with cancer had difficulty walking through a campus environment. The employee requested the ability to stay in one building. The employer contacted JAN for options. JAN suggested a mobility aid that the individual used solely for job functions.

Products:

There are numerous products that can be used to accommodate people with limitations. JAN's Searchable Online Accommodation Resource (SOAR) at http://AskJAN.org/soar is designed to let users explore various accommodation options. Many product vendor lists are accessible through this system; however, upon request JAN provides these lists and many more that are not available on the Web site. Contact JAN directly if you have specific accommodation situations, are looking for products, need vendor information, or are seeking a referral.

Resources

References

Updated 06/02/15

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