From the desk of Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Principal Consultant — ADA Specialist
During a recent conversation with a small employer, I learned about the benefit offered to its employees to choose when and where they work each day – whether it be between 9 and 5, on-site in the office provided by the employer, at home after the kids leave for school, or at the corner café for a planning meeting at 2 pm. This level of flexibility communicates a workplace culture of trust and demonstrates a commitment to hold employees accountable for meeting performance standards and completing the work, instead of focusing on micromanaging their workplace presence. Granted, many jobs simply cannot be this flexible due to the nature of the work or the location where work must be performed, but there are benefits to allowing flexible work arrangements, particularly for employees whose access to work may be impacted by limitations associated with a disability.
Workplace flexibility can strengthen employee morale and increase retention by enabling employees to constructively manage work responsibilities, personal obligations, and medical needs. It can foster productivity by extending the opportunity to complete tasks when employees with disabilities are functioning at their best, or when undivided attention can be given to the most important tasks – for example, late in the evening or very early in the morning. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), under the ADA, an employer must allow an employee with a disability to work a modified or part-time schedule as a reasonable accommodation, absent undue hardship.
For some employees with disabilities, working a modified or flexible schedule, or an alternative shift, enables them to access medical care to manage the symptoms of their disability, and in-turn, lessens the worry over potential loss of employment due to attendance issues. This flexibility can remove barriers to employment and allow employees with disabilities to attend medical appointments, receive treatment, participate in counseling, etc., and still be committed to getting the job done and meeting performance expectations. As an example, consider Jill. Jill informed her employer that she would need chemotherapy once a week to treat cancer. Jill expected to be capable of working during the treatment period, but knew she would need a couple of days to manage side-effects after each treatment. The employer permitted Jill to work a compressed work schedule; she worked four consecutive full days and took Fridays off for treatment. This alternative schedule allowed Jill the time she needed to recover over the weekend, and to return to work to meet the demands of her job at the start of each week.
Alternative worksite arrangements can also make it possible for employees who face worksite or commuting barriers to work. Offering flexibility with regard to where work is performed makes it possible for some employees with disabilities to skip the commute and work at home, to transfer to a worksite location closer to medical care, to work in a more quiet or creative space, or to function in a workspace that allows the individual to control temperature extremes or avoid exposure to irritants. According to the EEOC, employers may need to modify a policy concerning where work is performed if such a change is needed as a reasonable accommodation due to a disability.
Alternative worksite arrangements can be effective accommodations for various disability-related reasons. Consider Jack as an example. Due to multiple sclerosis, Jack experienced occasional flare-ups that affected his balance and limited his ability to walk, which impacted his commute because it was difficult to find accessible parking near his worksite and then walk several blocks. He was also impacted by hot and cold temperatures that intensified the symptoms of the disease. Because he could complete his essential job duties working at home, the employer allowed Jack to work at home as-needed, in order to remove the barrier of the commute and enable Jack to continue to be productive during flare-ups.
There are many ways to accommodate employees with disabilities with alternative scheduling and work arrangements – from allowing flexible scheduling, to providing additional and alternative breaks, making a shift change, granting reduced and part-time scheduling, approving telework, offering alternative site assignments, and beyond. JAN consultants are available to offer practical guidance on the implementing these accommodations. Keep in-mind, when employees with disabilities request this type of workplace flexibility, if this flexibility is ordinarily a benefit of employment offered to all employees as a matter of policy or practice, then employees with disabilities should not be required to go through the interactive process or jump through additional hoops to gain access to the same benefits as employees without disabilities. However, if flexibility beyond what employees are generally entitled to receive is requested, then a request for a modified schedule or telework, for example, can become a matter of reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
Modified/flexible scheduling and alternative work arrangements are included among the most frequently requested accommodations JAN Consultants address. Offering this type of workplace flexibility can be a strategy for attracting and retaining the best talent and promoting disability inclusion. Working 9 to 5 isn’t the only way to make a living anymore, and workplace policies related to when and where work is performed continue to evolve to allow employees the flexibility that is needed to be productive at work and also manage personal and disability-related needs.
For more information about modified and flexible scheduling and alternative work arrangements as accommodations, please contact JAN to speak with a Consultant.