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ENews: Volume 15, Issue 4, Fourth Quarter, 2017

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. Looking Back on 20 + 1 Years
  2. Accommodations Beyond Job Performance = Compliance and Inclusion
  3. Workplace Mentoring: Itís all Good!
  4. Recertifying the Ongoing Need for Accommodation
  5. JAN Blog Growing
  6. JAN Releases New Resources
  7. E-vents
  8. JAN Exhibit and Training Schedule
  9. Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

1 - Looking Back on 20 + 1 Years

A couple weeks ago I received a certificate of thanks for providing 20 years of service at JAN. In all actuality, the certificate was a year late. It has been 21 years. There are times when employers don’t get everything exactly right, even when it comes to addition. The certificate did prompt me to do some soul searching. I began to think back about how the employment of people with disabilities has changed, where we are as a society, and what I’ve been a part of at JAN. As a country, we continue making progress. As an organization, we continue to strive to meet our stakeholder’s needs. As a person, I like to think I’ve changed lives for the better. As I worked through my 21 years, I thought about how workplaces continue to deal with title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After diving into the data we collect at JAN, I can paint a picture of where we are. This is what we know:

So, 21 years pass and year 22 begins. I’ve seen a lot of complicated ADA questions come and go. Many jobs were saved along the way. We still have complicated issues like parking, service animals, drug addiction, alcoholism, telework, and leave time, but we work to do better.  I’ve met a lot of wonderful people in my travels. Hundreds of presentations are in the bank, and all but North Dakota and Oklahoma are in the rearview mirror. National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is here once again, and many of you may have similar stories to reflect upon. Just take a few minutes and think about the strides we’ve made together, and give us a shout when you need us.  JAN is an organization that does believe “Inclusion drives Innovation.” Download the official 2017 NDEAM poster for your office today!

- Beth Loy, Ph.D., Principal Consultant

2 - Accommodations Beyond Job Performance = Compliance and Inclusion

Most people know that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations so employees with disabilities can perform the essential functions of their jobs. However, people are not always so clear about other reasons employers might have to provide accommodations. One of the questions we get at JAN over and over is whether an employer must provide an accommodation for an employee who is adequately performing his job. The answer is a resounding yes! There are many situations in which an employer must consider accommodations even though an employee is able to perform all job duties. The following are some examples: 

1. Accessing Benefits and Privileges of Employment

Employees with disabilities should have equal access to the benefits and privileges of employment that are enjoyed by similarly-situated employees. In some cases, accommodations are necessary for an employee to access a benefit of employment.

Example:  An employee who is deaf is given an interpreter in order to participate in a professional development course.

Example: An employee with a heart condition cannot walk very far so is given a reserved parking space in the employee parking lot, close to his workspace.

Example: An employee who has quadriplegia plans to attend an off-site, employer-sponsored office party so the employer makes sure the party is held in an accessible location.

2. Dealing with Medical Needs

Employees might need accommodations to maintain their health even though they can currently perform all essential functions. The logic here is that if they do not maintain their health they will not be able to continue performing their jobs. Or, another way to look at it is that employees with disabilities should have the same opportunity as other employees to work without negatively impacting their health.

Example: An employee with a mental health impairment must avoid undue stress so is allowed to take a short break when she starts to feel overwhelmed.

Example: An employee with diabetes must eat several small snacks throughout the workday so is allowed to eat at his desk even though company policy forbids it.

Example: An employee with epilepsy is allowed to bring a service animal to work to help warn him that a seizure is about to occur even though the company has a no-animals policy.

Example: An employee with a sleep disorder is excused from rotating shifts so she can maintain a regular sleep pattern.

Example: An employee with infertility is allowed to take leave for medical treatment.

3. Commuting To and From Work

While employers do not have to actually transport an employee with a disability to and from work (unless the employer provides employee transportation to and from work as a benefit of employment), employers may have to provide other accommodations when an employee’s disability makes it difficult or impossible to commute to and from work, such as a schedule modification or telework. The underlying reason why employers may have to provide such accommodations is that the employer typically controls employee schedules and work locations so when a schedule or work location poses a barrier to an employee with a disability, the employer must consider reasonable accommodations to overcome the barrier.

Example: An employee with lupus and fatigue has difficulty maintaining stamina at work because of a long commute so is allowed to telework several days a week.

Example: An employee who is blind uses public transportation that is only available at certain hours of the day so his employer changes the employee’s schedule so he can access the public transportation.

Example: An employee with a gastrointestinal disorder has difficulty driving to work because there is no place to stop and use the restroom. He is allowed to transfer to an office closer to his home that is along a route with public restrooms.

4. Struggling to Perform Job Functions

An employee might be performing his job adequately, but struggling to do so because of a disability. The employer has a duty to consider accommodations so the employee can perform his job without struggling.

Example: An employee with a learning disability must work extra hours to get his work done because he has difficulty reading. His employer provides screen reading software to make it easier for the employee to access information.

Example: An employee with cumulative trauma has difficulty typing. She is meeting the minimum productivity standards, but wants to work at a higher standard in the hopes of receiving a promotion. Her employer provides speech recognition software for data input to increase her typing speed and an ergonomic workstation, which enables her to work faster.

5. Temporary Barriers in the Workplace

In some cases, issues arise in the workplace that create temporary barriers for employees with disabilities. In such cases, employers should consider providing temporary accommodations until the issues are resolved.

Example: An employee with chemical sensitivity is allowed to work from another location while the office is being painted and new carpets are off-gassing.

Example: An employee who uses a wheelchair and works on the third floor of the worksite is given paid leave time until the office elevator is repaired.

Example: An employee with multiple sclerosis and temperature sensitivity is given a portable air-conditioner and a cooling vest to use until the central air-conditioning is repaired.  

The employees in all these examples are performing their jobs, but their employers must still consider accommodations under the ADA. In addition to being legally required accommodations, these types of accommodations promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of employment.

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

3 - Workplace Mentoring: Itís all Good!

What is a mentor? The dictionary defines a mentor as someone who is an experienced and trusted advisor, counselor, coach, or guide.

How does workplace mentoring work? Workplace mentoring is a learning partnership between employees for purposes of sharing information, knowledge, and insight in all aspects of employment.  

While mentoring is beneficial for any new employee, it may be particularly so for individuals with disabilities. Individuals with disabilities may have difficulties with social skills, interpreting social cues, and understanding workplace rules, particularly those that are unspoken. A mentor who can build a good relationship with the employee can guide him through the social aspects of the workplace. Think of what may be daunting to a new employee: new expectations, new policies and procedures, new people and personalities, and new daily developments and demands from co-workers and supervisors.

But mentoring is not only beneficial to new employees. The guidance, support, and encouragement of a mentor during times of transition may help a current employee process new information, gain confidence, persevere through challenges, and manage stress. A mentor can help the employee determine the best strategies to improve both performance and conduct. The mentor can also help the employee consider various options when faced with tough decisions and identify, minimize, and/or eliminate potential hurdles to progress. As a result of a close working relationship, mentors may be able to help employees identify and request effective accommodations in the workplace that can help ensure their success.

Let’s look at some of the positive aspects associated with mentoring in the workplace. It is not only the person being mentored who reaps the benefits.

Benefits to the Employee

An employee benefits from a mentoring relationship because he has someone with greater knowledge and experience to turn to for guidance. He may learn how an organization is structured and operates; for an employee with a disability this may not always be obvious. He may also learn about and adjust to the culture of a new workplace environment from someone who’s been there and knows.

Although a mentor won't do the employee's job for him, the mentor helps the employee develop skills or competencies by demonstrating a task, guiding the employee through solving a problem, or critiquing the employee's work. Consistent feedback is crucial for individuals who may have difficulty evaluating their own progress.

A mentor may help an employee feel less isolated at work, too, and encourage him to interact more with others. For individuals with disabilities who have social anxieties and difficulty interacting with others, improving interpersonal relationship skills is vital.

A mentor can also provide an employee with tips on career growth and may provide important networking contacts by introducing the employee to other professionals.

Benefits to the Mentor

Mentors gain from the mentoring relationship too. The opportunity to teach or advise others can increase the mentor's confidence, self-worth, and her own job satisfaction. Mentoring may also provide an increased sense of purpose and responsibility for her own career and may prepare her to take on greater responsibilities and leadership roles.

A mentor who is required to listen to the concerns of another employee may develop a better understanding of employee issues and build stronger communication skills. The opportunity to assist others from different areas or departments can widen the mentor’s knowledge of the organization.

Mentoring can improve supervisory skills, including relationship-building, planning, and problem-solving.

Even if a mentored employee were to leave the organization, the mentor and mentee may maintain a professional relationship. This may broaden the mentor's reputation and connections.

Benefits to the Employer

The employer of a mentored employee benefits from greater productivity in the workplace. As employees trust in their mentors for advice, they make fewer errors on the job, decreasing employer losses. Training costs may be lowered as well due to the one-on-one interactions between the mentor and the mentee. Mentoring increases teamwork among employees from different generations and cultural backgrounds

Employees in mentoring relationships tend to have greater job satisfaction as well, which can mean a more positive work environment and greater employee retention. Employers might notice less turnover of employees as workers feel a greater loyalty to the company.

Mentoring informs others both in and outside of the organization that leadership is willing to invest in its employees, creating an environment of acceptance and inclusion.

An organization might even use its mentoring program to attract new employees. Applicants and new hires may be encouraged by the employer’s career development opportunities.

Several years ago at the National APSE Conference, an employer named Mike Erwin from Tailored Label Products won an award for being a visionary employer and leader who carries out the mission of APSE. The mission of APSE in simplest terms is the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace and in the community. The award was given for the mentoring program developed at Mike’s company. He made a statement at the awards dinner that I believe is so important to consider. His statement really got me to thinking about how important mentoring is – not just to the employee being mentored, but to the employee doing the mentoring. He said that if employees weren’t mentoring other employees, they were just working. I love that statement! Read an interview with Mike Erwin from a guest blog/interview.

JAN consultants hear many positive and successful examples of mentoring in the workplace. We find it is helpful to pass those examples along for others to see how mentoring might be effective for situations in which they find themselves, their coworkers, or their employees.

Del, a new employee at a fast food restaurant, was doing a great job of cleaning tables when needed, but in-between times left him standing around not knowing what to do, and getting in the way.

After observing Del and trying to figure out how best to help him, the crew manager determined that a more experienced member of the crew had developed a rapport with Del. The manager worked with this crew member to develop an informal mentoring relationship. A relationship did develop and Del was able to learn the full scope of his job tasks from the more experienced crew member, get his questions answered, and become a more focused, diligent employee.

Charlie, who was hired by a country club, was having difficulty initiating the tasks he was responsible for at the start of the day. Extended training on how to do the tasks, along with a task list in picture form, were not successful motivators.

The general manager noticed that a friendship had developed between the new employee and a much older employee. The employee described the relationship as a grandfatherly one. The employee began to mentor Charlie by doing periodic “checks” on him during the mornings, something the general manager wasn’t able to do. The response was very positive and Charlie worked successfully, seemingly eager to please his new friend.

Jacqueline had a successful history of working in retail, but was returning to work after being out for many years due to issues with major depression and chronic fatigue syndrome. She was beginning work at a part-time level and requested a mentor to help her. Jacqueline felt that her retail skills, especially her people/interpersonal skills were lacking because she had been home for so long. She really didn’t have much confidence in herself or her abilities.  

Her employer saw no problems with providing her with a mentor, a woman who the employee claimed was young enough to be her daughter. The younger employee had excellent interpersonal skills, was adept at her sales job, and had formed a rather quick positive relationship with Jacqueline. Jacqueline was actually quite encouraged that the younger woman would be interested in helping her and felt she would benefit from her mentor’s guidance.

Juan, a newly hired employee in a large office setting, disclosed that he had higher-functioning autism. His difficulties included both social anxiety and interactions with others.

A mentor helped Juan acclimate to the workplace. Juan’s department was very large, with many new people to meet. The mentor helped introduce Juan to people slowly – not everyone all at one time, and certainly not everyone in one day. The mentor gave Juan a brief bit of information about each employee so he was better able to make connections. She also created an informal directory with photos and some identifying information on each co-worker. Some basic information on where each employee worked and the jobs they did helped. She also made a chart of where each co-workers’ work space was located. Juan reported that he had reduced anxiety and his ability to interact with his co-workers was improving.

Our last example is a situation in which you might not think of mentoring as being a viable solution: 

Baker, an individual with severe social anxiety, was the owner of a landscaping business and in need of a mentor (or mentors) who understood both her business and disability issues.  She had good and bad days and needed guidance on how to remain effective on the bad days. She wanted help with communication strategies as well as improved organization. One option she considered was outsourcing some business tasks to help reduce stress. For this guidance, she planned to investigate organizations like Small Business Administration (SBA) affiliated programs such as her local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) or a Women’s Business Center (WBC). There are also programs such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) or Micromentor that could match her with a business mentor. She also considered a specialized coach familiar with disability issues to assist her with stress management on difficult days and improving her communication skills. Baker used the resources JAN provided to search for a team from among mentors with expertise in the different areas.

It’s all good! So if you have questions about mentoring in the workplace or any other accommodations, please contact JAN for assistance. 

References:

EARN Workplace Mentoring Primer. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from http://www.askearn.org/wp-content/uploads/docs/wmp.pdf?pg=pwm_welcome

Management Mentors 2015. 25 Benefits of Mentoring. Retrieved September 12, 2017, from http://www.management-mentors.com/resources/benefits-of-mentoring

Tingum, Janice 2017. The Advantages of Mentoring in the Workplace. Retrieved September 12, 2017, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/advantages-mentoring-workplace-18437.html

- Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Lead Consultant, Cognitive/Neurological Team

4 - Recertifying the Ongoing Need for Accommodation

Requesting new or updated medical documentation to prove disability each time an employer wants to recertify an employee’s need for accommodation can violate the disability-related inquiry rules under the ADA. JAN Consultants frequently receive questions from employers about the appropriateness of requesting medical information in order to determine if accommodations are still needed. Accommodations can be needed for temporary or long-term durations, as-needed, and even indefinitely, but often the original medical information/request for accommodation will not indicate an anticipated duration. As a result, some employers have a practice of recertifying the continuing need for accommodation, sometimes periodically, but more commonly annually. The practice of recertifying accommodations can leave employers open to some degree of ADA risk if not done appropriately. The following Q & A addresses some of the questions JAN receives on this topic, and offers practical guidance for recertifying accommodations and keeping the disability-related inquiry rules in mind.

Can employers require employees to periodically or annually recertify the ongoing need for accommodation, and request updated/new medical information as part of the process?

Only under limited circumstances. Remember, under the ADA, employers may not ask disability-related questions of employees unless those questions meet the standard of being “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” When reasonable and sufficient medical documentation that establishes an ADA-qualifying disability was previously provided by an employee for the purpose of receiving accommodation, an employer will not likely have a job-related reason to request updated/new medical information on an annual or periodic basis simply because the employer wants to do this as a practice. For example, if an employee who has a long-term or permanent medical impairment has been accommodated for some time and there is no change in either the medical impairment, limitations, need for accommodation, ability to perform job duties, or the employer’s ability to accommodate, then asking questions about the continuing need for accommodation, or requesting updated/new medical documentation, will not meet the job-related and consistent with business necessity standard.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a medical inquiry or examination is job-related and consistent with business necessity when:

For additional information, see question 5 in the EEOC enforcement guidance on Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees.

When can employees be asked to provide updated disability-related information about their ongoing need for accommodation?

There can be individual circumstances when requesting information about the ongoing need for accommodation may meet the job-related and consistent with business necessity standard, on a case-by-case basis. To avoid violating the ADA’s disability-related inquiry rules, employers should be aware of what is already known about the employee’s medical impairment and need for accommodation before engaging in the process of requesting updated medical information. According to the EEOC, employers cannot ask for medical documentation when the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are known or obvious, or the individual has already provided the employer with sufficient information to substantiate an ADA disability.

When an employer does not have sufficient disability-related information, or there is a significant change that will impact the provision of reasonable accommodation, then it can be appropriate to request information from employees about their ongoing need for accommodation. The following situations are examples of when it may be appropriate to request disability-related information to recertify the ongoing need for accommodation:

Practical guidance: Make smart decisions about asking for the best disability-related information at the appropriate time. Understand what must be known in order to continue providing the accommodation. Do you merely need confirmation that accommodation is still needed for the reason it was originally granted? For example, if the initial request for accommodation did not indicate a duration for the need for accommodation, the employer can request that the employee obtain a note from their healthcare provider that confirms the accommodation is still needed, and for what duration. The employer could ask if the need for accommodation is long-term, permanent, or temporary, and the anticipated duration. Medical inquiries that reach beyond what is needed to confirm the continuing need for accommodation, or that duplicate information that was previously obtained, can violate the ADA (e.g., requesting new information about an employee’s diagnosis when the information is already available to the employer).

When appropriate, can employers simply request confirmation that an accommodation is still needed, without requesting updated medical information?

Yes. Simply put, don’t ask for information that is not needed. Remember, the ADA does not require employers to request medical information to provide reasonable accommodation. Before asking for too much information, consider the impact the information will (or will not) have on effectively continuing the accommodation. It is possible to simply seek confirmation that an accommodation is still needed without requiring any further disability-related details. In many situations, a request for information to confirm the need for accommodation will only need to address whether or not the individual still requires the accommodation due to the medical impairment for which it was originally granted, and for what duration.

When there is a change in an employer’s ability to provide a specific accommodation, is it possible to re-engage in the interactive accommodation process with the employee and request updated medical information?

It makes sense to re-engage in the interactive process when it is determined that a particular accommodation must be discontinued because it is no longer reasonable or poses an undue hardship. Whether or not updated medical information can be requested will depend on the facts of the situation and if the information is necessary to determine, 1) if accommodation is still needed, and 2) if alternative accommodations will be effective based on the employee’s impairment, limitations, and impact on job performance/ability to meet standards.

Practical guidance: If updated medical information will not impact the next steps of the accommodation process, then it probably is not needed. Instead, focus on identifying an alternative reasonable accommodation. You already know what impairment exists, the employee’s limitations, etc. The change is related to the employer’s inability to continue the accommodation. What alternative, effective accommodation solutions exist? In most situations, updated medical information will not be needed, but rather, productive brainstorming will lead to identifying an alternative accommodation solution.

How can employers determine if accommodations are still needed and effective without asking disability-related questions?

The interactive accommodation process offers a path for employers to evaluate the effectiveness and ongoing need for accommodation by monitoring accommodations. As important as it is to explore, choose, and implement accommodations, it is equally as important to ensure that accommodations continue to be effective after implementation. Because changes occur, it can be useful to periodically check on the ongoing effectiveness of accommodations. An effective way to monitor accommodations is to encourage open and ongoing communication. Employees who are receiving accommodations should be encouraged to communicate with the employer when there are changes or problems with an accommodation, and be informed about who to contact for accommodation assistance.

Practical guidance: Have a formal interactive accommodation process that includes monitoring accommodations and assigns responsibility for follow-up. There is no standard process for monitoring accommodations but the process should focus on evaluating the effectiveness of the accommodation, as opposed to obtaining information about the employee’s medical impairment. Remember, disability-related inquiries are restricted until the job-related and consistent with business necessity standard has been met.

It can be useful to follow a checklist or use a form to guide and document the monitoring process, but it can also be practical to simply have an open dialogue with the employee about the effectiveness of accommodation. Discussion can include questions like: Is the accommodation working? Is anything additional or different needed to support you in performing job duties, or meeting standards? Is there any change in your need for accommodation? In some situations, discussion may lead to a need to request updated disability-related information (e.g., employee indicates a change in disability-related limitations), but this will be rare.

JAN offers a sample form that can be used as a guide when monitoring accommodations. The form can be customized to gather information relevant to each unique accommodation situation. For more information, see JAN’s Monitoring Reasonable Accommodations.

- Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., CLMS, Lead Consultant, ADA Specialist

5 - JAN Blog Growing

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 Ė conversations with all of you that help us better understand whatís 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. Become a part of the new JAN blogging community and suggest a blog you'd like to see us write!

6 - JAN Releases New Resources

7 - E-vents

8 - 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.

9 - Subscribe to JAN Newsletter

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This document was developed by the Job Accommodation Network, funded by a contract from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (#1605DC-17-C-0038). 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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