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ADA Issues Related to New Supervisors and Managers

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

From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant


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:

  • Keep track of accommodations, both formal and informal, and tell new supervisors and managers about existing accommodations when necessary.
  • Educate new supervisors and managers about the ADA, especially how to recognize an accommodation request.
  • Require new supervisors and managers to notify you and employees in advance of making changes and remind employees that they can ask for accommodations if needed.
  • Do not remove existing accommodations before considering new accommodations to take their place. When reviewing accommodations, remember ADA rules about medical inquiries and only ask for medical information that you need and do not already have.
  • Keep the lines of communication open and consider having one person be responsible for overseeing accommodations in your workplace. Make sure to periodically remind employees who that person is.
  • Use available resources. If you need accommodation ideas, call JAN!
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