Providing reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and job applicants who need them to perform a job, apply for a job or to enjoy the benefits of employment is one of the fundamentals of preventing discrimination and harassment, removing barriers to diversity, equity and inclusion and tapping into a wider talent pool.
Training managers on their role in the reasonable accommodation process helps to ensure that accommodation requests are handled appropriately, and organizations can avoid costly claims of bias and discrimination. Recently, a jury awarded over $125 million in a disability discrimination lawsuit in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleged that a large retailer failed to accommodate the request of a longtime employee with a cognitive disability.
Reasonable accommodation training should prepare managers to:
- Understand the concept of reasonable accommodation
The term reasonable accommodation refers to any change, adjustment or modification to a work environment or the way a job is performed. Laws that are enforced by the EEOC, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, include provisions for making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees or applicants — unless it would cause an undue hardship on the organization. This could be an action that would cause a significant expense or disruption in business operations, or pose health and safety risks.
- Know when an accommodation is being requested
Requests for reasonable accommodations don’t have to be put in writing. They may come in the form of a conversation in which an employee simply asks for help with something. Requests can also be made by a family member, friend, health professional or workplace ally.
- Recognize different types of accommodations
Accommodations can be temporary, long-term or permanent, depending on the needs of the individual. Different forms of accommodations include:
- Disability-related accommodations – The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals based on their disabilities. This can be a physical, mental or physiological condition. Some examples of accommodations are providing alternate or assistive technologies and equipment, mentors for cognitive disabilities, modified work and break schedules and accessible facilities.
- Pregnancy-related accommodations – The PDA requires that employers treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions the same as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work, which includes providing reasonable accommodations. This might be allowing individuals to sit or to eat while working, providing more frequent or longer breaks, assigning less strenuous or hazardous work and offering a nursing room.
- Religious accommodations – Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on religion and requires employers to reasonably accommodate an employee’s sincerely held religious beliefs or practices. For example, making accommodations for religious dress or grooming, allowing leave for religious observances and time off during a mourning period, providing time and or a place to pray, and implementing a policy that encourages the voluntary swapping of schedules among coworkers.
- Domestic violence accommodations – In many states, including New York and California, laws protect targets of domestic violence from discrimination at work and entitle them to reasonable safety accommodations, such as time off to seek medical attention or counseling, changing work schedules or installing locks
- Address common myths
One of the myths about reasonable accommodations is that the review process is often a long and difficult process that takes a great deal of the manager’s time. In fact, the process is often straightforward, and most accommodations can be implemented easily. And, importantly, managers shouldn’t feel they are alone in handling requests. They can turn to other departments, such as HR, compliance, legal or risk management for help in determining if the accommodation request is reasonable and if any federal or state requirements are involved.
Training managers on how to recognize and respond appropriately to requests for reasonable accommodations at work is an important step in reducing the risk of discrimination and providing employees with the tools and inclusive work environment they need to succeed.
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