From the desk of Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Program Leader, Director of Training, Services, and Outreach
The yearly anniversary of the signing of the ADA offers an opportune time to encourage businesses to educate the workforce about the ADA and disability employment issues. Informing employees, beyond simply posting an equal opportunity poster, can benefit businesses by creating a more knowledgeable and inclusive workforce, reducing the likelihood of discrimination through awareness, and improving productivity by recognizing value in providing reasonable accommodations. There are many ways to educate the workforce about the ADA and reasonable accommodation. Consider these strategies:
Train HR Professionals, Supervisors, and Managers. JAN cannot stress this enough. Train management staff on the ADA and accommodations – early and often. These key employees will have a significant impact on job performance success rates if properly informed, trained, and equipped with the information and tools necessary to comply with the ADA and engage in the interactive process. Here are some training tips that will benefit any management team:
- Inform staff about the basic principles of the ADA and reasonable accommodation. They must know the employer’s obligations under the ADA, general accommodation requirements, and how to avoid discrimination.
- Train staff how to recognize and respond to an accommodation request. This is where a formal reasonable accommodation procedure will help management engage and implement accommodations in a way that is fair and consistent. When an employee indicates that a medical condition is causing a work-related problem, a supervisor or manager should treat it as an accommodation request until a definite determination is made.
- Limit the sharing of medical information. Employee medical information should be shared with only those who are considered to be on a need-to-know basis. In many cases, medical information is provided to HR, however, supervisors and managers often do not need to know an employee’s specific medical impairment to implement accommodations. Details about the accommodation may be all that is needed. Knowing fewer details about an employee’s medical impairment will be beneficial when other employees ask questions about accommodations – the manager won’t be in a position to unnecessarily reveal information s/he is not aware of.
- Don’t perpetuate or tolerate harassment. Expect management staff to communicate respectfully and interact positively with employees who have accommodations, as should be expected with all employees. Management should refrain from making negative or derogatory remarks in response to an accommodation request or questions from co-workers about accommodations.
Implement a Reasonable Accommodation Policy … and Tell Everyone About It! There is no requirement under the ADA for employers to follow specific policies and procedures when trying to accommodate an applicant or employee with a disability. However, having a formal reasonable accommodation policy and procedures – and sharing them with everyone – is recommended. A formal process creates a standard of practice for HR professionals, managers, and supervisors to follow, which increases the likelihood that accommodation requests will be handled properly and consistently. When formal policies and procedures are shared with all employees, this helps all workers know about the ADA, how to request accommodations, what to expect after doing so, and also helps them understand (if they personally do not need accommodation) that other employees might be requesting and receiving accommodations.
Make a Statement! … About Reasonable Accommodation. Another way to educate the workforce about the ADA and accommodations is to be sure the organization has a formal reasonable accommodation statement that is widely disseminated. A reasonable accommodation statement can be included as part of an equal opportunity (EO) statement that makes it clear that the organization has no intention to discriminate on the basis of disability or other legally prohibited bases. Employers should consider including an EO/RA statement in job postings, employee handbooks, on websites and intranet sites, in on-line applications, and other sources of workplace policies distributed to applicants and employees. For sample reasonable accommodation and EO statements, see JAN’s Consultants’ Corner article, Making a Statement – About Reasonable Accommodation and Equal Opportunity.
Incorporate ADA & Accommodation Practices Into the Onboarding Process. The purpose of an onboarding process is to smoothly integrate new employees into their positions and company culture. The onboarding process should include information about the ADA and reasonable accommodation. If a new hire with a disability needs an accommodation, how will s/he know how to request it? Make sure new hires know that they can and should ask for an accommodation if they know or think they may need one. Many individuals who know they need an accommodation to do the job successfully will choose to make an accommodation request. Others may fear the job offer will be rescinded if they do so, and some may not be sure if they need an accommodation or may not know how to request what they need. To overcome these issues, the individual making the job offer or preparing the employee to start working can share information about the company's desire to facilitate a smooth transition and integration for the new employee and explain various employment policies and procedures, including the organization’s reasonable accommodation policy. For more information, see JAN’s E-News article, Incorporate Reasonable Accommodation Practices into your Onboarding Process.
Recognize National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Do you know that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month? NDEAM is an opportune time to raise awareness about disability employment issues and demonstrate a commitment to an inclusive workplace through disability training or informal educational events that can include information about the ADA and accommodations. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) makes it easy to recognize and celebrate NDEAM. Every year, ODEP creates an NDEAM theme and develops free promotional and training materials to support the event. The themes endeavor to advance disability employment and help employers promote inclusive workplaces. The theme for October 2015 is “My disability is one part of who I am.” ODEP offers a list of ideas on the NDEAM website to facilitate NDEAM activities each day in October.
Harness the Viral Power of Online Media. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be used to share information related to disability employment issues, the ADA, and accommodations. Post or tweet useful facts and resources to enable the workforce to easily seek out further information about disability-related topics. For example, share information about the JAN service, post links to EEOC documents about the ADA, tell the workforce about October being National Disability Employment Awareness Month, or retweet and share information distributed by trusted disability-related organizations. Include a disability employment-related segment as part of a regular ENews article or blog that is distributed to the entire workforce (e.g., HR’s ADA Column, Accommodation Corner, etc.). Add a page on the employer’s Website or intranet that links to information for all staff about the company’s reasonable accommodation policy, how to access resources to assist with the interactive process, and how to request an accommodation. Create an information site for HR and management staff to easily access training on the ADA. See JAN’s ENews, Blog, Consultants’ Corner, and various social media platforms at AskJAN.org for ideas about how to use viral media to communicate disability-related information.
Use JAN to Educate the Workforce. Everyone has access to a professional, trusted, free service that offers technical assistance on the employment provisions of the ADA and job accommodations. JAN is that service! Leverage the JAN service to provide training to HR professionals, supervisors and managers, and all employees about the interactive process and the requirements of the ADA and similar disability employment legislation; to provide accommodation solutions, product resources, and information referral; and to access free ADA and accommodation information through the AskJAN.org website. The AskJAN.org website is rather extensive and offers many resources that can be used in various ways to educate the entire workforce. Visit AskJAN.org for a variety of contact options. For additional guidance on ways to educate the workforce about the ADA and accommodations see JAN’s new publication, Effective Accommodation Practices: Educating the Workforce about the ADA & Accommodations or contact JAN directly.