Who Let the Dogs…In?

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 18, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Tracie DeFreitas, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist, and Lou Orslene, Co-Director

The song is in your head now, isn’t it? You know the one. Now you have this vision of a pile of big and little, furry dogs, ears flopping up and down, running wildly, …through the halls of your organization. And suddenly, the music in your head has come to a screeching halt. Who let the dogs…at work? Service and emotional support dogs have become more prevalent as a form of reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities employed in private, public, and federal sector workplaces all over the country. Fortunately, the issue of whether or not a dog must be permitted as a reasonable accommodation at work is rarely debated now. Employers are more informed about service and emotional support animals as accommodations and understand that having a dog at work, for some people who require it due to their disability, promotes effective job performance.

While there is little debate over the need to consider access for service and emotional support dogs as an accommodation in the workplace, employers sometimes wonder about the best way to inform others in the workplace concerning Fido’s impending presence. We know that, under the ADA, employers are permitted to share limited information about the animal with those who are on a “need-to-know” basis. For example, a manager or supervisor might be informed about a service dog and how to interact appropriately. However, the employer is not permitted to share disability-related information with co-workers. As this at times can be confusing, let us offer a couple of best practices while teasing out the question of confidentiality and service and emotional support dogs as an accommodation in the workplace.

Let’s start with a couple of best employer practices in regard to service and emotional support dogs. A service or emotional support dog is an obvious accommodation that will immediately be known by others who encounter the dog at work. It’s also an accommodation that could impact other employees. In some ways, it’s like acknowledging the elephant in the room, but a much furrier, smaller elephant, that sometimes barks. Preparing employees for dogs in the workplace, like other accommodations, should begin before a dog arrives, or accommodations are needed. What I mean is, when employees are educated about the ADA and their ability to request workplace accommodations, there can be fewer questions or cause for concern when an accommodation is implemented because people just know – they understand why there is a change at work. So as a best practice, employers who promote an informed and inclusive workplace should offer disability etiquette training to all employees and educate people about interacting with service animals in general.

Another best employer practice in response to an employee accommodation request for the use of a service or emotional support dog is to ask the employee using the service animal how they would like to handle the situation of informing (or not informing) others about the presence of the dog and how to interact appropriately prior to bringing the dog to work. Dog lovers beware and resist the urge to go nose-to-nose with that furry animal! The dog has a job to do. As is often the case, the employee being accommodated may be the best source for input and information. Note that the employee who uses a service dog is free to independently (and voluntarily) share information about their animal and need for accommodation with others in the workplace.

However, if an employee is uncomfortable with the employer sharing information about the service or emotional support dog and the employee prefers not to share information, then it is the employer’s obligation to protect the confidentiality of the employee with a disability and their request of a service animal as an accommodation. But then you may ask yourself, doesn’t the supervisor, manager, or other personnel involved in the provision of the accommodation need to know some information about the accommodation? The answer is yes – but only those who are on a “need-to-know” basis should have this information. For example, a manager or supervisor who is responsible for implementing the use of a service animal in a particular job site. These “need-to-know” personnel will need to know how to effectively integrate the service animal into the workplace, including where the service animal will relieve itself or if the service animal will be included in meeting spaces. However, it could be a breach of confidentiality for employers to reveal why the service or emotional support dog is needed.

So what about the employee’s co-workers? What information can an employer share with them? We know that, under the ADA, employers are not permitted to share disability-related information with co-workers. This would be a breach of confidentiality. We also know that while employers have no particular obligation to inform others that a dog will be allowed on the premises, there are dynamics in the workplace where providing limited information is important. For instance, in the event a co-worker is afraid of dogs or has an animal allergy, or perhaps when questions arise about why a “no animals” policy is being modified.

How then does an employer communicate that a dog will be soon entering the workplace? As stated previously, revealing that an employee is being “accommodated” is a violation of confidentiality, so we suggest employers be cautious about using the terms “service” or “emotional support” dog when announcing that a dog will be allowed on the premises. Informal guidance JAN has received from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on this issue notes that verifying that a dog is a service animal and not a pet is revealing that the employer is allowing the animal onto its premises because of the services it performs as a reasonable accommodation. This, in turn, is revealing that the employee using the service animal has a disability, even if the disclosure is not revealing the nature of the disability.

In light of this EEOC guidance, we suggest employers who feel the need to share that a dog will be on the premises can share this information with limited individuals in the employee’s immediate work area. These co-workers, given their working proximity to the employee who requires the service animal, might be informed that a dog will be present, that its particular presence is approved by the employer, and who to contact if someone has an issue or concern regarding the matter. This approach is informative to the extent necessary, makes it clear that the employer is aware and approves the dog’s presence in the workplace, and provides information to co-workers about who to contact if, for instance, they have an allergy or a fear of dogs, so these issues can be resolved privately.

So our tips for communicating to employees about service animals:

  • Prepare your workforce for the inevitable presence of a service or emotional support dog with general disability etiquette training including specific information about service animals.
  • Discuss with the employee requesting access for a service or emotional support dog as an accommodation their expectations for how others should interact with the dog. Ask what information, if any at all, the employee would like shared with others about the dog’s presence.
  • Inform managers or supervisors on a need-to-know basis about service and emotional support dogs as accommodations. Managers or supervisors will need to know what their role is in effectively implementing the accommodation.
  • When necessary, let co-workers know in advance that a dog – not a “service” or “emotional support” dog – will be entering the workplace and who to contact if there are questions or concerns.

These resources may help:

Manners Unleashed: Etiquette Regarding Service Dogs

Disability Etiquette in the Workplace

The Manager’s Dilemma: “An employee is asking about a co-worker’s accommodation. As a manager, what do I say?”

Educating the Workforce about the ADA & Accommodations

For more information about service and emotional support dogs in the workplace, please contact JAN to speak with a consultant, or go to AskJAN.org and see the A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations section, under the topic of Service Animals.

 

 

The Everyday Dangers of Brain Injuries

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 17, 2016 under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers | Comments are off for this article

By: Kelsey Lewis, Former JAN Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

With football season in full swing, it isn’t uncommon to hear stories of sports-related head injuries for high school, college, and professional athletes alike. The risk of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), both mild and severe, is a very real threat for players and can occur during both practices and games. But with all of the negative publicity that football attracts regarding head injuries, many people aren’t aware that most TBIs are caused by everyday falls, something that can happen to almost anyone at any time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that falls made up approximately 40% of all TBIs between the years 2006-2010, with unintentional blunt trauma (being hit by an object) and vehicle crashes following behind (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).

As someone who does not identify as being athletic (although I was a great bench warmer during my soccer career), I never really experienced many injuries on or off the field. So it was much to my surprise when I took a recent spill at home resulting in a mild concussion. After the fall, I immediately felt dizzy, nauseated, and had a pounding headache. I could tell this was like no other injury I had experienced before; I just didn’t feel like myself. The days immediately following the accident, I reported to work as usual, discussed accommodations, and went on with my typical routine. However, I was utterly exhausted, felt oddly emotional, and still had a headache. Finally, on the third day of work after my fall, one of my trusted JAN colleagues intervened and convinced me to take care of myself. I took the next day off along with the weekend to rest, unplugged the electronics, went to the emergency department to make sure everything was fine (it was), and slowly started feeling better within a few weeks. The point of my self-disclosure? To illustrate just how easily and innocently a brain injury can occur, even if it is in the form of a mild concussion, in which one can recover and feel “normal” within a few weeks.

Regardless of whether TBI symptoms are temporary or long-term, accommodations can assist in the recovery and management process. Symptoms from a brain injury may affect:

  • Cognitive function (e.g. attention and memory)
  • Motor function (e.g. weakness and impaired balance/coordination)
  • Sensory function (e.g. hearing, vision, and impaired perception)
  • Emotional function (e.g. depression, anxiety, aggression, and impulse control)
  • A combination of any of these.

Possible workplace accommodations can include low cost options such as providing a tape recorder in order to remember the content of a meeting or procedural accommodations like providing leave or a modified schedule to recover from the initial injury or go to medical appointments. More involved accommodations to a workspace may include installing ramps and handrails for issues associated with mobility. JAN’s publication Accommodation and Compliance Series: Employees with Brain Injuries provides additional accommodation ideas. Our publication Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact provides information from our survey of employers who historically report no cost or low cost for accommodating employees with disabilities.

Regardless of how a TBI occurs or the severity of the injury, one of the most important things to remember is to “take it easy” after one occurs. Rest helps your brain heal and can speed up the recovery process (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Once returning to work, accommodations can help address the limitations resulting from the injury.

Resources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Injury Prevention & Control: Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion

Employees’ Practical Guide to Negotiating and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Job Accommodation Network (Original 2005, Updated 2007, Updated 2009, Updated 2010, Updated 2011, Updated 2012, Updated 2013, Updated 2014, Updated 2015, Updated 2016). Workplace accommodations: Low cost, high impact. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from http://AskJAN.org/media/lowcosthighimpact.html

Guest Blog – Website Addresses Addiction and Mental Health Impairments

Posted by Kim Cordingly on November 10, 2016 under Employers, Organizations | Comments are off for this article

Occasionally at JAN, we are contacted by a new organization or individual who wants to share with us their information and the work they do through a guest Blog. We were contacted by Adam Cook who has started the Website Addictionhub.org that focuses on resources to support individuals with a coexistence of a mental health impairment and drug/alcohol addiction. He had read our Blog and asked to write an article about his work and a topic he feels is often insufficiently addressed, including in the employment arena.

We chose to do the Blog in a Q&A format. We thank Adam for contacting us about this topic and wanting to share this information with our customers as he develops both his site and its potential outreach.

1.  Can you tell us about yourself, your background, and what inspired you to start the Website Addictionhub.org?

I am a pretty average guy with an above-average passion in regards to helping people find the resources they need to fight addiction. I became dedicated to this cause a few years ago when I lost a good friend of mine to suicide. He had been dealing not only with alcoholism, but also had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I believe that it was harder for him to fight his addiction battle because of the state of his mental health, and his addiction exacerbated his mental illness. He finally went into treatment, but afterwards he resisted finding a long-term program. Eventually he gave up hope, and I lost him.

I don’t want anyone else to feel the sorrow I have experienced after losing a life-long friend, nor do I want anyone to have to go through what he did. He wasn’t alone, but he felt like he was. I wish I had known more about the resources that were out there when he was alive. It is my goal to spread the word about addiction and places where individuals and families can get help. I want to encourage people to not try to do it on their own.

2. Can you talk a bit about the process you underwent for starting the Website and what your short, medium, and long term vision is for the site? You’ve included a crowdsourcing component. Can you talk about why you built-in this feature?

Initially, I had hoped to simply create a place where I could list organizations and other resources that could help people who are fighting addictions. As I began doing research, I realized even if I could compile a large amount of information, I needed to do what I have encouraged others to do in their own journey: ask for help.

Since the launch of the site, I have had people contact me with information that has been extremely helpful. I value first-hand feedback in regards to how addiction assistance has made a difference. My goal now is to continue building on the searchable database with input from others. In the long term, I would like to have more involvement from not only people who have gone through programs, but also from the treatment providers.

3. You state the mission for your Website is “…to help individuals, families, and health workers find support with issues relating to addiction. We locate and catalog addiction resources from around the Web.” Can you expand on this mission?

I take the resources that are shared through the site very seriously. I take the time to research any organization or Website that is submitted to make sure that the information is useful and the programs are legitimate. I think it is important for individuals who need help to be able to find a program that they can relate to and that they will stick with.

4. You emphasize on your Website the connections between mental health impairments and addiction. Can you talk more about this connection from your perspective and why you believe this is an important point to make?

I experienced first-hand someone battling with alcoholism as well as bipolar disorder. From the perspective of an uninformed outsider, it was often hard for me to distinguish what symptoms were from which condition. I believe that my friend started drinking to deal with his mental health impairment, and that he faced even more challenges than most in finding a treatment plan that worked for him. Overall, mental health and addiction are two things that are very misunderstood by most. These challenges go beyond willpower and strength of character. They are serious medical conditions that often go hand-in-hand.

5. JAN addresses mental health impairments and addiction in the context of employment and accommodation situations. From your experience, can you talk about the specific impacts you feel these issues have for individuals in the workplace?

I believe one of the hardest things to overcome is the stigma put on recovering addicts and individuals with mental health impairments. These not only hold people back from seeking out treatment, but also can cause misunderstanding and mistrust from employers. If someone had a serious physical ailment such as cancer or an injury, it is acceptable for them to take time off to receive medical treatment or heal as needed. In the case of mental health or addiction, there are less accommodations given by employers, even though the conditions can be just as, or even more, serious.

When loss of employment does occur, it can trigger dangerous reactions. I have seen someone caught in a vicious cycle of despair where work stress contributes to symptoms and behaviors, and then those cause more issues at work.

In my research, I have determined that more employers are recognizing the importance of nurturing their employees’ mental health, but there are still a lot of hurdles.

For more information on mental health impairments and addiction in an employment context, see these resources on the JAN Website:

Accommodation Ideas for Alcoholism
Accommodation Ideas for Drug Addiction
Accommodation Ideas for Mental Health Impairments
Accommodation Ideas for Bipolar Disorder
Accommodation Ideas for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Disclosure Basics

Posted by Kim Cordingly on under Accommodations, ADAAA, Employers, Products / Technology | Comments are off for this article

By: Melanie Whetzel, Lead Consultant – Cognitive/Neurological Team

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 26th anniversary this past July. This legislation is purposed to improve the lives of people with disabilities by protecting their rights to have access to employment, public entities, transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, telecommunications and more. It helps people with disabilities compete equally for employment and receive the accommodations and protections they need to work.

Are you in need of reasonable accommodations in the workplace due to a disability? Do you know what steps to take in order to get the process started? Disclosure is the first and sometimes the most difficult step. Just thinking about this can often cause anxiety and stress. So what exactly is disclosure?

Disclosure is divulging or giving out personal information about a disability. It is important for the employee to provide information about the nature of the disability, the limitations involved, and how the disability affects the ability to learn and/or perform the job effectively. The employer has a right to know if a disability is involved when an employee asks for accommodations.  Ideally, employees will disclose a disability and request accommodations before performance problems arise, or at least before they become too serious.

Let’s look at three main reasons why someone with a disability may choose to disclose a disability to their employer:

1). To ask for job accommodations. As an example, a bus garage employee with a reading disability missed instructions and important announcements that were sent via e-mail. As an accommodation, he requested screen reading software that allows text to be converted into computer synthesized speech.

2). To receive benefits or privileges of employment. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations so that employees with disabilities can enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by similarly-situated employees without disabilities. Benefits and privileges of employment include employer-sponsored training, access to cafeterias, lounges, gymnasiums, auditoriums, transportation, and parties or other social functions. For example, an employee with Down syndrome signed up for a nutrition class, but had trouble understanding the information that was presented. His employer asked the instructor to provide pictures of the types of food she was recommending employees eat. The employee was able to use these pictures when making food choices.

3). To explain an unusual circumstance.  For instance, someone with temperature sensitivities due to multiple sclerosis (MS) may need to explain to his employer why it would be helpful to work from home while the office air conditioner is being repaired.

Disclosure can be quite simple. You can tell your employer that you need to talk about an adjustment or change that is essential for a reason related to a medical condition. You may use plain English to request an accommodation. You do not have to mention the ADA nor use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.” It can be as easy as saying to your supervisor, “I need to talk to you about the difficulty I encounter when I try to hand write notes due to a medical condition.”

Questions about disclosure? Contact JAN for more information or to discuss an accommodation situation with a consultant.

Resources:

JAN Topic — Disclosure

The ADA in 2016

JAN ADA Library