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  • Writer's pictureRic Armstrong

Does Your Business Adequately Support Employees with Disabilities?

Businesses have been trying for years to piecemeal together solutions to support individuals with disabilities. But most companies don't have a system in place and accommodations are handled on a person-by-person basis. This can lead to misplaced paperwork, misconduct, confusion, and a potential lawsuit on your hands. And disability claims are ticking up.

More than a third (36.1 percent) of all charges from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the 2020 fiscal year qualified as disability claims. The number of lawsuits filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in federal court soared to an all-time high last year. These cases are only likely to rise. During the last recession, beginning in 2008, private sector discrimination filings with the EEOC swelled by a staggering 15 percent, the biggest jump in the federal agency's 44-year history.

Another reason for the rise may be due to serial plaintiffs filing dozens or hundreds of cases using the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act to extract tens of thousands of dollars in settlements, according to The Washington Post.

All companies should be ADA compliant, but small-businesses owners are most at risk. Not only are they often unaware of violations and don't have systems set up to handle accommodation requests, but fixes may be expensive and physically difficult to make, especially if the company is located in an older building. Luckily, there are tools businesses can use to ensure they comply with the ADA on all measures and provide individuals with disabilities the care they need. Here are a few.

Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. In general, the ADA defines an accommodation as "any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities." This can include a variety of changes, such as making existing facilities accessible, altering work schedules, providing interpreters, and modifying current equipment.

If employees have a disability for which they suddenly request time off, there are services you can use to fill those positions part time easily without needing to make another full-time hire. Some services use software to enable job-sharing, or two employees who work to cover one full-time role. The ability for employees to shift their hours as needed without having to worry about slacking on work may help employees, especially those with disabilities, who may hide their disability out of fear of negative consequences.

Many chronic illnesses and disabilities aren't visible, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression. Employees may hesitate to contact HR in these situations lest they risk undermining an employer's trust in their ability to do their job. In these cases, a designated staff member to assist can make all the difference.



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