Ensuring that your business is entirely inclusive for employees and job applicants with disabilities is more than just an ethical obligation, it is a legal requirement laid out by the federal government. While the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has existed since 1990, many employers may still have questions about how to fully comply with ADA requirements. Having a clear understanding of these requirements will allow every individual to reach their full potential, while increasing organizational value as a whole.
The following covers a few of the must-haves and other essential points when it comes to ensuring ADA compliance.
1. Avoid Making Disability Assumptions
Disabilities are not always obvious and easily seen. In fact, they may well be entirely invisible to the naked eye. As an employer, you should never jump to the assumption that someone doesn’t have a disability simply because it may not be able to be seen. Some disabilities are just not that easy to spot, but that doesn’t make them any less important when it comes to meeting ADA requirements.
Whenever an employee or job applicant mentions a physical or mental condition that might impact their work, you have to treat them fairly. Specifically, these individuals have to be treated according to ADA guidelines the government has established. Ignoring one of your employee’s health problems because you don’t believe it’s serious or important could eventually lead to legal action against your company.
2. Use the Official Process
Conforming to ADA requirements is not always easy, but the process for doing so is at least clearly laid out by the government. This process should be closely followed when determining an employee’s workplace disability needs, as well as when measures designed to assist the employee in the workplace are implemented. An employer has to follow the official process when investigating an employee’s disability and whether reasonable accommodations can be made in the workplace for that disability.
Of course, reasonable accommodation means just that. It doesn’t mean the company has to bankrupt itself to hire employees with disabilities. Still, businesses that fail to follow the correct procedures leave themselves open to being legally challenged by current or former employees who feel they have been mistreated. Keep in mind that compliance with ADA regulations means more than just arriving at a solution that the employee (or employees) find fair and acceptable. It also means that a business has taken the correct legal route to arrive at a solution.
3. Fully Document Everything
In addition to ensuring that your business has followed the rule of law and ADA regulations when it comes to addressing disability issues with employees, you also have to be able to prove that you have done so. You should fully document every step you take – even the seemingly insignificant ones.
Having this documentation means that if a lawsuit is filed against you in which employees or applicants for positions claim you discriminated against them by violating ADA regulations, you’ll have evidence to support your position that you were in fact in full compliance with the rules. This means documenting all the interactions you have with an employee regarding disability issues, even if it’s just a short conversation over the water cooler.
4. Treat Workers As Individuals
Workers with a disability should be dealt with on an individual basis. The rules underlying the ADA require that businesses avoid using any kind of one-size-fits-all approach to deal with their employees with disabilities. Each case is unique and will require individualized solutions. Just because two of your employees have the exact same disability, doesn’t necessarily mean that their workplace needs are going to be identical as well.
For instance, there are disabilities that are progressive in nature, meaning that two employees with the same condition might be at different stages of that condition, requiring different accommodations. This is why it’s vital to actually listen to what your employees are telling you and to respond based on those conversations, instead of attempting to put in place a standard set of accommodations for that particular disability.
5. Remember Digital Accessibility
Not all accommodations involve changing an office space or purchasing equipment. Sometimes, a reasonable accommodation may mean modifying an employee’s schedule or moving their desk closer to natural light. It’s also critical to make sure that your digital properties are accessible – not only so that your employees with disabilities can use them, but also so that they’re available to job seekers with disabilities. Your website, job portal, software and inter-office documents should meet the technical requirements of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. If you’re not sure, have them evaluated by experts, remediated if necessary, and periodically checked to confirm that they’re still in compliance with the ADA.
Ensuring that you are in compliance with federal law when it comes to employment and disabilities can also mean making sure that you have fully complied with the FMLA – Family and Medical Leave Act1. FMLA provides employees – male and female – with the right to request leave from their job under certain circumstances.
Businesses are not allowed to simply terminate employees on the spot when they have to leave for a while because of family medical issues or their own pregnancy. In addition to this, employers are not allowed to dismiss employees who exceed the period of time allowed for their FMLA leave. Instead, employers have to carry out an ADA analysis to determine if the employee can be transferred to another position in the department or in the company that would be more suitable to their circumstances.
Yes, it is true that ensuring that your company is fully in compliance with ADA requirements isn’t always easy. But it’s absolutely essential if you and your business would like to avoid any expensive courtroom battles in the future. By following the process laid out by the ADA and conscientiously communicating with employees or job applicants with disabilities, you can guarantee that your business is – and remains – ADA compliant.
Brent Frayser is a media relations representative for DiversityInc and a graduate of the University of Mississippi, with a Bachelor’s Degree of Business Administration (Major in Marketing, Minor in Management). He was born and raised in the south, is very outgoing, and has a strong sense of determination. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, writing, coaching baseball and football, and spending time with family and friends.
- FMLA (Family & Medical Leave) United States Department of Labor, 2018