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ENews: Volume 11, Issue 2, Second Quarter, 2013

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.

Index

  1. Changing a Supervisor as an Accommodation under the ADA
  2. ADA Issues Related to New Supervisors and Managers
  3. Accessible Live Training Events
  4. Accommodating Employees with Skin Cancer
  5. Are Your Business Cards Accessible?
  6. Hoarding Disorder and the Workplace
  7. JAN Blog Relaunch
  8. JAN Releases New Resources
  9. E-vents
  10. JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
  11. Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

1 - Changing a Supervisor as an Accommodation under the ADA

It’s not always easy getting along with others at work. Differences of opinion and communication styles can make for a challenging employment situation for some people, especially when those differences are with a supervisor. Oftentimes these differences can be accepted or worked-out, but when they can’t, workplace stress becomes elevated, making it difficult for some people to perform job functions effectively. In particular, people with such impairments as generalized anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), may find it necessary to discuss job accommodations related to interacting with a supervisor when the relationship is less than cooperative.

This situation is not uncommon. In fact, one of the more frequent inquiries JAN Consultants receive from employers is whether they are required to change a person's supervisor as a form of reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has responded to this very question in guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA. EEOC’s position is that, in most circumstances, an employer does not have to provide an employee with a new supervisor as a reasonable accommodation. Of course, this does not mean that an employer cannot change an employee’s supervisor if it is possible and makes sense in the given situation. While the EEOC states that an employer is not generally required to make such a change, other accommodations may be required, for example changes in supervisory methods that will have a positive impact on job performance.

Supervisors can implement management techniques that support an inclusive workplace culture. These same techniques can be ways of effectively accommodating employees who may have difficulty communicating with supervisors, or who need alternative methods of supervision. Successful management techniques include the following:

JAN also receives questions about reassigning an employee to a vacant position if changing supervisory methods is not effective. For example, an employee with an anxiety disorder had anxiety attacks that were triggered by any interaction with the current supervisor because of their past relationship. It was not hostile or harassing, just a bad relationship for the person's anxiety. The employer asked if reassignment must be considered as an accommodation in this type of situation. This is a challenging situation because how does the employer know that a similar situation will not develop between the employee and a different supervisor? The EEOC has expressed that, under most circumstances, the ADA would not require an employer to reassign an employee to a different position due to a poor relationship with a supervisor.

Let’s look at this situation from another perspective, where an employee maybe was only having problems with one supervisor, for example someone who has PTSD as a result of being assaulted and her current supervisor reminds her of the attacker. In this situation, it is not a relational or supervisory situation, but rather a PTSD trigger for the employee. EEOC has stated that this may be one of the limited situations in which an employer should consider reassignment when an employee cannot work with a specific supervisor. This is because a change in supervisory methods will not be effective in this situation and there may not be any other accommodation that would work other than reassigning the employee to a job with a different supervisor.

Essentially, under most circumstances, an employer does not have to provide an employee with a new supervisor as a reasonable accommodation, but may need to implement other types of accommodations, like changes in supervisory methods that will enable performance of job functions. Under limited circumstances where changing supervisory methods will not be effective because the supervisor is a trigger, regardless of supervisory methods, reassignment may be required. An accommodation must be effective in meeting the needs of the individual, while not causing undue hardship for the employer.

For further reference, see the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA, question 33.

- Tracie D. Saab, M.S., Lead Consultant

2 - ADA Issues Related to New Supervisors and Managers

When new supervisors or managers start working, they often make changes that affect the employees they supervise. Whether these changes are good or bad, some employees are not shy about letting the new person know that they prefer the old supervisor or manager’s methods. In some cases, a power struggle can ensue and the new supervisor/manager may make a statement such as “I don’t care how the old supervisor did things. I’m your supervisor now and you’ll do things my way.” Typically everyone eventually settles down and the employees get used to the new way of doing things, but what happens when one of the employees has a disability and needs an accommodation? Here are a few examples of what can happen:

Example: A new supervisor decides that employees in her unit will no longer be allowed to work at home. One employee has a disability and needs to continue working at home as an accommodation. The old supervisor knew about the employee’s disability, but no formal records were ever made because the employee’s needs were met under the work-at-home policy available to all employees. The employee assumes the new supervisor knows about his disability, so merely states “I need to continue working at home.” The new supervisor denies the request and states “no one is going to work at home, get used to it or find a new job.”

Example: The supervisor of a long-term employee with a progressive disability had been helping the employee by performing part of his essential job functions. This had been going on for several years without HR knowing about it. When the supervisor retired, a new supervisor discovered that the employee had not been doing his job and told him he would immediately need to do so or he would be fired.

Example: A new manager decides to review all accommodations made by the previous manager. He notifies all employees that their accommodations are being suspended until the review has been completed and he asks them all to bring in new medical documentation. In the meantime, he offers leave to any employee who is unable to work without accommodations.

In all of these examples, there are potential ADA violations that might have been avoided. The following general rules may help avoid ADA problems when new supervisors and managers make changes:

- Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant

3 - Accessible Live Training Events

Many of us are required to give and/or participate in live training events. It is important for the sponsoring agency to consider making these events accessible. Although the term accessible is very individual, there are certain elements that should always be considered when producing a live event. At a minimum, your checklist should include those elements related to the following.

Preparation:

Facility: Training Room: Materials: Food and Beverage:

Presenters should always be aware that any visuals used during a presentation should be described and care should be taken so that interpreter and CART services are not blocked from view. Presenters should also always use a microphone so that individuals who are wearing a sound receiver (hearing aid, headphone, neck loop) can hear.

Planners should also make any field trips or activities accessible to participants. This may include arranging accessible transportation, providing a guide, or allowing a personal assistant to join. Consider making a visit prior to the event to conduct a facility audit.

Remember that this list is not all inclusive. Some accommodations may need to be customized to make an event accessible. If you are planning a training event and you would like to discuss ways to make it accessible, contact JAN for more information.

- Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant

4 - Accommodating Employees with Skin Cancer

Accommodating Employees with Skin Cancer Anatomy Quiz: What is the largest organ of the body? The skin! As the largest organ, skin serves many functions including protecting our internal organs from injury or bacteria, preventing fluid loss, and controlling body temperature. It is also susceptible to the most common of all cancers: skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year (2013). Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, will account for more than 9,000 skin cancer deaths each year (SCF 2013 & ACS 2013).

Skin cancer can impact anyone and those who tan are not the only ones at risk. Medical conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV, several diseases (e.g., arthritis, lupus, or other cancers), and certain medicines used in treating organ transplants and other conditions can often increase the risk of damage from UV light, leading to skin cancers (SCF 2013).

Some individuals who have skin cancer or who are in remission may not need accommodations in the workplace, while others might. As with any situation, accommodations should be considered on a case-by-case basis. For some, a modified work schedule or flexible leave may be needed for treatment. Others may need adjustments in how or where they ordinarily perform their jobs.

Accommodation ideas can include:

It is also important for employers to understand that they should not be making employment decisions based on customer reactions or the appearance of the individual with skin cancer. While employers should consider allowing employees who are undergoing treatment for cancer to wear certain items such as a wig, scarf, or hat, employers should not insist that the employee wear something out of concern about potential customer reaction. The EEOC provides the following example about presumed negative customer reactions in the guidance “Questions and Answers about Cancer in the Workplace and the ADA.”

Example: An individual with a facial scar from surgery to treat skin cancer applies to be an airline customer service representative. The interviewer refuses to consider him for the position because she fears that his scar will make customers uncomfortable. In basing her decision not to hire on the presumed negative reactions of customers, the interviewer is regarding the applicant as having a disability.

If an employee requests an accommodation related to skin cancer, the employer should work to find a solution that suits the needs of everyone. With the summer months approaching and outdoor work increasing, you may find that some employees need special considerations to continue working through the season.

References:

Elisabeth Simpson, M.S., Senior Consultant, Motor and Sensory Teams

5 - Are Your Business Cards Accessible?

Are you networking effectively? If your business cards are not accessible, you could be missing out on customers and contacts. Standard business cards can be difficult for individuals with vision impairments to read. While some individuals may have assistive technology that they can use to access the information on standard business cards, it is also possible to make simple modifications to the cards themselves.

Some ideas for making business cards accessible include:

Some common design elements can actually make cards less readable for everyone, including readers with low vision. To increase overall readability, keep the following in mind:

You can read more about strategies for making print accessible at the following sites:

Teresa Goddard, M.S., Senior Consultant, Sensory Team

6 - Hoarding Disorder and the Workplace

Due in part to media attention, particularly in reality television, excessive hoarding has become more widely recognized in recent years, and JAN has seen an increase in calls regarding hoarding behaviors in the workplace.  Up until recently, hoarding behaviors were considered to be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), but research has revealed that treatments that are often effective for OCD have little or no impact on hoarding behaviors (Rachman, Elliott, Shafran, & Radomsky, 2009).  As a result, it is expected that the up and coming DSM-5, to be released in May of 2013, will have “hoarding disorder” as being distinct from OCD, which for simplicity is the term we will use in this article.  

Hoarding disorder involves the obsessive collecting of items that are of little or no value and the inability to discard such items.  Individuals who engage in excessive hoarding usually do not believe there is anything wrong. They often have an overwhelming sense of guilt associated with the possibility of wasting something and justify keeping seemingly useless objects, such as old newspapers and junk mail, with the belief that they or someone else may one day need them.

Hoarding behaviors can transfer to the workplace, in which case they may have a negative impact on the individual’s performance or the performance of others. They may also result in conduct violations due to problems such as the employee failing to maintain a clean and neat workspace. When faced with a hoarding situation in the workplace, the first question employers may want to consider is whether the individual who is hoarding has a disability under the ADA. The answer to this question depends on whether the individual has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Although the limitations of people with hoarding disorder can vary, they can become significant. Some individuals may eventually become unable to take care of themselves (e.g., cannot take a shower because the bathtub is full of collected items), may have difficulty sleeping (e.g., because the bed is buried under hoarded items), and/or may not be able to work effectively (e.g., keeping paperwork that is no longer needed, resulting in an inability to stay organized and carry out job duties).  If hoarding behaviors are so significant that they substantially limit a major life activity, an individual with hoarding disorder may have a disability under the ADA. 

Because people who engage in hoarding behaviors usually do not believe that they have any limitations, they may not disclose that they have a disability or request reasonable accommodations to help address performance problems. It may be that more often the employer will have to bring up the hoarding behaviors in response to a performance or conduct problem, in which case the employer may be justified in asking whether the employee needs a reasonable accommodation.  If the employee denies the need for reasonable accommodations, the employer may continue to enforce performance and conduct standards going forward. 

Now, if the employee does express the need for reasonable accommodations, what might that entail?  The employee may need intensive therapy, in which case flexible leave for doctor’s appointments may be appropriate.  If the employee has a collection of items at his/her desk, for example, the employer may consider allowing a support person, such as a therapist, to come in to help the employee discard items that are no longer needed.  This can be a very painful process and should be done with care.

It may be helpful to follow that with a job coach who could assist the employee in developing a system to help prevent unneeded items from piling up.  Finally, trying to reduce the number of items that could be collected may be helpful.  This could include trying to keep communications electronic (e.g., no paper memos), using electronic filing systems as opposed to paper, and agreeing to a weekly or biweekly check of the workspace to try to help to prevent the collection of new items. 

If you find yourself faced with a hoarding situation in the workplace and you would like to discuss accommodation ideas, please contact JAN.

Reference

Rachman, S., Elliott, C.M., Shafran, R., & Radomsky, A.S. (2009).  Separating hoarding from OCD.  Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47, 520-522.

7 - JAN Blog Relaunch

The newly revamped Ask JAN Blog is an opportunity for you to share with others your workplace accommodation solutions. JAN receives over 45,000 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:

Become a part of the new JAN blogging community!

8 - JAN Releases New Resources

9 - E-vents

10 - JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule

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.

11 - Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

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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.

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