Disability Accommodations often include Health Care Providers
Q: This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and some employers still find it challenging to understand their rights and responsibilities in regard to employees with disabilities, especially those with mental disabilities. What steps does an employer take to engage in the interactive accommodation process with a person with a mental disability?
A: It's the same whether a person has a mental or physical disability. In most cases, the interactive process will start with a conversation in which the employer asks the employee about his/her limitations and how the limitations impact the employee's ability to do his/her job. The employer also should ask whether the employee has suggestions about potential accommodations. If the employee's disability makes it difficult for the employee to articulate his/her needs, the employer should consider allowing the employee to bring a job coach or other representative into the conversation. The process often also involves getting input from the employee's health care provider. It's important to remember that both the employer and the employee must participate in the interactive process, and both have a duty to interact in good faith.
Q: How do you know when to begin an interactive process?
A: Employers should begin the process promptly after an employee discloses a mental impairment and requests an accommodation; the employer learns information that gives him a reason to know that an employee is disabled and needs an accommodation; the employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that an employee's inability to perform an essential job function is due to a mental or physical condition; or it appears that an accommodation that was previously provided is no longer effective. Employers are sometimes hesitant to begin the interactive process without an employee's request for reasonable accommodation for fear that they will violate the ADA by “regarding the employee as disabled.” However, initiating an interactive dialogue about whether there is a need for an accommodation is not a violation of the ADA.
Q: What are examples of reasonable accommodations for an employee with a mental disability?
A: The same accommodation might be reasonable for one employee but not for another. Accommodations to consider for employees with a mental disability may include: giving instructions at a slower pace; breaking job tasks into steps; using visual aids; writing down or allowing the employee to record instructions; allowing a job coach to be present to help the employee learn the job and provide support; allowing a different start or stop time for the job; modifying break schedules; and/or allowing leave time for an employee to get his/her medication under control or to undergo therapy. However, employers don't have to lower production or performance standards or excuse violations of conduct rules (as long as those rules are job-related and consistent with business necessity), as these are not considered “reasonable accommodations.”
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER
Published by The Oklahoman, November 12, 2015