As HR professionals, we take a lead role in making sure our workplace policies and practices are both compliant and ethical. We need to make sure our managers are operating under the same guidelines. One area where a high level of risk may be lurking is in responding to employee performance issues, concerns and requests for accommodations in situations where the word “disability” is not used. Even if an employee does not say the word “disability,” the employer may still be on notice that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its related legal obligations are implicated.
Here’s a scenario:
John works for a small manufacturing company and has struggled in his role. John’s manager, Dan, documents all of John’s performance related issues. John is worried about losing his job and anxious about what is going to happen next. John has a disability but does not explicitly use that word when talking to Dan. John asks to change his shift “to help his nerves” and to help address his performance related issues. Because John did not use the word “disability,” Dan does not consider this a formal accommodation request, nor does he bring this up to HR. After one final performance issue, Dan terminates John. John then files a claim against the employer for failing to accommodate his disability.
HR should train managers to be on the lookout for language that may trigger an accommodation under the ADA. This should include educating managers about physical and mental impairments that can constitute disabilities under ADA and the interplay of ADA, FMLA and Worker’s Compensation. Rather than have managers assess such requests, they should be coached to raise potential disability-related issues with HR. HR can then meet with the affected employee to determine if the ADA interactive dialog process needs to commence, or if this is simply a performance or behavior issue.
The experienced HR professionals and attorneys at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready to assist and advise if you have questions regarding ADA related issues in your organization. We are here to help you navigate this complex area. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-844-333-5253.