A supervisor change can be a welcome or unwelcome change. In some situations, a new supervisor is hired, often because the old supervisor moves on. In other cases, an employee is having difficulty getting along with the current supervisor and wants a different supervisor. In either case, employers need to be aware of the potential impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
When new supervisors 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’s methods. In some cases, a power struggle can ensue and the new supervisor 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?
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 make changes:
For more information on how to transition to a new supervisor, see JAN's Out with the Old, in with the New Supervisor.
Employee Requests a New Supervisor as an Accommodation:
What about when an employee with a disability wants a new supervisor as an accommodation? The following information is from a publication by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA, question 33.
Does an employer have to change a person's supervisor as a form of reasonable accommodation?
No. An employer does not have to provide an employee with a new supervisor as a reasonable accommodation. Nothing in the ADA, however, prohibits an employer from doing so. Furthermore, although an employer is not required to change supervisors, the ADA may require that supervisory methods be altered as a form of reasonable accommodation. Also, an employee with a disability is protected from disability-based discrimination by a supervisor, including disability-based harassment.
One possible exception is when it is obvious that one particular supervisor is the problem. For example, an employee has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which she developed after she was attacked. Her supervisor looks very similar to the man that attacked her. In this type of situation, the employer may want to assign the employee a new supervisor. Or, if a supervisor is harassing an employee and the employee requests a new supervisor, the employer might want to consider complying with the request as a way to address the harassment.
For additional information, see: Changing a Supervisor as an Accommodation under the ADA.