Why it’s important to shift your thinking when accommodating employees

Why it’s important to shift your thinking when accommodating employees

As a former HR manager, I know the internal struggle you may often face when an employee experiences a medical condition at work.

Because of your training, you’re hyper-focused on treating employees equally. From hiring practices to benefits administration, you know the parameters and federal rules that have been established to ensure your organization isn’t running afoul of discrimination laws. While there are some exceptions (e.g., employees receiving additional PTO days after a certain tenure with an organization, sabbaticals, employee bonuses), you know and live by certain guidelines to ensure equality throughout your organization.

However, when one of your employees experiences an illness, injury or mental health condition, you suddenly have to pivot your thinking and consider that employee individually. This can be a seismic mind shift as it feels so against the grain of your day-to-day focus. However, just as you are required to treat your employees equally in almost all instances, reasonable accommodations, which are legally mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), require you to treat your employees individually.

For many HR managers, this can seem like a huge change in perspective. Below are some tips I’ve learned over the years to ensure you’re providing the right support for your employees.

Overcome your mental obstacles
While the shift in thinking may make you feel uncomfortable at first, it’s the right approach for you to consider each employee and his or her needs separately. While accommodations may garner attention from other employees, or even management, they are legally required under the ADAAA. Not only that, accommodations need to be tailored to an employee’s unique circumstances. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to back pain or returning to work after cancer. Personally, after overcoming my initial trepidation, I found it refreshing to help someone on an individual level at such a critical time for them.

Consider streamlining your approach
When I was in the HR world, my department realized that we weren’t necessarily equipped to navigate the employee accommodations process by ourselves. While we knew the basics of what was required, our knowledge was spread across team members and somewhat diluted, which provided the opportunity for potential compliance issues. It made sense for our organization to have one point person for our managers and our internal HR staff to go to for questions, so we hired an ADAAA specialist.

If it doesn’t make sense to create a position for ADAAA accommodations at your organization, you can rely on your disability carrier to help. Many carriers have services, like the Workplace Possibilities℠ program, to help you adequately consider an employee’s accommodation from start to finish.

Changing your mindset to thinking about employee accommodations on an individual basis may not be easy, but it’s an important factor to ensure your organization is in compliance with accommodation regulations.

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