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Dos and Don’ts for a More Equitable Reasonable Accommodations Process

Public employers have a vested interest in creating the conditions for employees with disabilities to thrive: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13.7% of government workers have at least one disability, a figure likely to increase with an aging population. Well-designed reasonable accommodations procedures go a long way toward creating a disability-inclusive workplace, which in turn improves recruitment and retention of disabled workers. What’s more, a disability-inclusive organizational culture improves the employee experience of the entire workforce. Consider these dos and don’ts for a more equitable reasonable accommodations process.

Don’t: Be Secretive

Organizations often fear that if the reasonable accommodation (RA) process is readily accessible to all employees, they will be inundated with expensive and cumbersome accommodations requests. To the contrary, the Job Accommodation Network’s annual research shows that 59% of job modifications cost absolutely nothing, while the rest typically amount to about $500. Obscuring information about the process does little to control costs but does a lot to communicate to disabled employees that their needs are a burden to the organization.

Do: Disseminate Information

Instead, make your RA process as transparent as possible. Put it in writing and make it available in multiple locations on your intranet, include it in your onboarding process, and reiterate it in management training. Ensure that all the steps of the process are clearly articulated to provide as much predictability to the requestor as possible.

Don’t: Be Adversarial

For a variety of reasons, the employer’s representative may enter the interactive dialogue with an adversarial stance. Their priority may even be to prove that the employee doesn’t have a qualifying disability to avoid granting an accommodation at all. This is a counter-productive starting point likely to result in the requestor feeling unheard, disrespected, and unsupported. Any short-term cost savings are more than offset by decreased engagement and organizational commitment.

Two professional women having a conversation at a conference table.

Do: Focus on Solutions

Entering the dialogue with the goal of meeting both parties’ needs is much more likely to result in mutually satisfactory outcomes, even if the accommodation granted differs significantly from what was requested. There is almost always a solution that will help the employee perform their work better without overburdening the employer. Begin the conversation with the goal of finding this solution, and you’ll end up with a win-win situation.

Don’t: Go Overboard with Documentation

When a disabled employee’s impairment is not known or obvious, medical documentation may be requested to verify the employee’s claim and better understand what type of accommodation would be most appropriate. It might seem like a good idea to get as much information as possible, but overly broad requests can come across as invasive and antagonistic. Ultimately, this damages the trust the employee has in the process and the organization. 

Do: Be Deliberate about the Details

Decide what documentation to request with care for the individual’s privacy. Ensure all requests for medical information are related to the specific requirements of the job. Also, consider that procuring formal diagnoses and letters from health care providers can be time consuming and expensive, especially for workers without health insurance. Try to request the minimum amount of documentation necessary and no more.

Don’t: Go Silent

Many organizations neglect to follow up after an accommodation is granted, assuming that the issue has been resolved or that the employee will reach out if they need anything else.

Do: Regularly Check In

Remember that the ultimate goal is to provide the employee with the support they need to perform well in their role. It is important to follow up to see how the accommodation is working out. A follow-up schedule might include a check in a few weeks after implementation, then once a quarter over the next year, then once a year after that. At each follow up, make space for adjusting the accommodation as needed. Not only is this likely to result in better outcomes for both parties, but it also demonstrates that the organization is invested in the employee’s long-term success.

Tucker Duval is a Human Resources and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional based in Athens, GA. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned an MBA from Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. He currently works as an Employment Generalist in the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and serves as a charter member of the ACC Human Relations Commission.

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