Accommodate instead of terminate: Navigating ADAAA

With the 2008 enactment of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) to include a broad range of disabilities, most leaves of absence — or Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cases — need to be scrutinized for ADAAA compliance. While many employers think their obligations end after FMLA protection has been satisfied, ADAAA regulations may extend an employer’s obligations.

If an employee is unable to return to work after FMLA is exhausted due to his or her own medical condition, HR managers should not terminate the employee without first considering the ADAAA. This may include engaging the employee in a conversation about reasonable accommodations.

While this additional step, on top of regular job responsibilities, can drain HR resources, employers who don’t investigate alternatives can expose themselves to a lawsuit for not attempting to find an accommodation. Among the things for an HR manager to consider:

  • Obtaining medical documentation. This substantiates the need for an accommodation and provides details about the person’s limitations that can help find an appropriate accommodation.
  • Researching possible accommodations. This will help an employer find a potential modification that allows the employee to continue performing his or her job.
  • Investigating temporary alternative job placement. With a temporary solution, an employee may continue working through treatment while the company finds a long-term solution or accommodation. A permanent job reassignment can allow the employee to remain with the company but in a different capacity.
  • Documenting the process. Documentation is a legal necessity and a best practice. It can also provide proof of the company’s willingness to provide an accommodation if a complaint or lawsuit is filed.

An on-site consultant can help evaluate cases and assist an employer with ADAAA compliance. We use this process internally at The Standard; the on-site consultant’s experience and knowledge helps find solutions that we might not otherwise consider.

In one case, a Workplace Possibilities on-site consultant assigned to The Standard helped us work with building maintenance to redirect airflow in an employee’s work station to reduce allergens and keep the employee at work. The on-site consultant also has helped identify equipment to help accommodate employees.

It can be easier and more cost-effective to keep an employee than to hire and retrain a new one. Consider accommodation a potential solution, not a hindrance.

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