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Establishing an Effective Workplace Accommodation Process with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)

In today's workplaces, fostering inclusivity is key to success. Job accommodation processes play a vital role in ensuring all employees, regardless of limitations, can contribute effectively. This article explores the importance of such processes and offers insights into setting them up successfully, emphasizing proactive planning and clear communication. AbilityLinks is committed to fostering inclusive workplaces nationwide and helping employers ensure they have a proper accommodation process. We interviewed Anne Hirsh, the Program Leader at the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), to provide expert guidance on this critical aspect of workplace diversity and accessibility. By embracing job accommodations, organizations can create environments where everyone can thrive.


How should an organization structure its accommodation process?

Anne explained that many elements determine how an organization sets up its accommodation process. The structure of an accommodation process can be influenced by elements such as applicable legal obligations, company size, culture, and whether they use a third-party administrator. Some companies have human resources (HR) run the accommodation process, others use their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) office, while others may have an Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Coordinator. Regardless of how they are structured, the key to any successful accommodation process is for the employer to resolve employee or applicant requests through an interactive process. This involves talking with the person about their needs and discussing available solutions. People with disabilities have often been successfully accommodated at home, in school, or other jobs and would have suggestions based on what has worked in the past in the context of their abilities and limitations.


Sample accommodation policies and procedures are available on the Job Accommodation Network’s (JAN) website along with examples from businesses that voluntarily shared their policy documents.


Where should an employer publish their accommodation process and how should they promote it to their employees?

Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), establishments must post a notice outlining applicable regulations, such as those about reasonable accommodations for workers and applicants. Many companies publish their accommodation policies and procedures in their employee handbooks and on HR sites. During the onboarding process, it is a good idea to refer to your accommodation policies and give each employee a printed copy or a URL link to it. It is also wise for a company to put URL links to the complete documents in their staff newsletter, along with periodic reminders about the policy. Employers should also include a reasonable accommodation statement in their job advertisement or on their application website to assist applicants in understanding how to request reasonable accommodations.


For more information, see Tell ‘Em About It: Educating the Workforce about the ADA & Accommodations.


Are there specific forms employees should use to request accommodations?

It is important to note that the initial request for reasonable accommodation need not be in writing. Unlike some other federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require employers to use standardized forms for ADA-related employment actions. However, employers sometimes find it helpful to develop forms for consistency and efficiency. JAN has several sample forms that can be customized. Employers may use these sample forms as a template for customizing forms or documents used during the interactive process, such as for documenting requests for accommodation, requesting disability-related information, approving or denying accommodations, documenting temporary accommodations, monitoring implemented accommodations, etc. JAN encourages employers to customize these forms or to use them as a guide for drafting their own.


For more information see JAN’s Sample Forms webpage.


Are there any training programs or educational materials available for managers regarding accommodations and their implementation? Does JAN provide these resources for employers (paid and unpaid)?

For those interested in training programs or further education materials, JAN hosts an annual free webcast series. In addition to providing helpful advice and information about job accommodations, title I of the ADA, and strategies for navigating the accommodation process, the series covers a wide range of disability employment topics. [FS1] All JAN webcasts are recorded and made available in the JAN Webcast Series Library. JAN also offers several e-learning modules and highlights several sources for training.


For more information, access the JAN Training page.


How can a company ensure employees feel comfortable requesting accommodations?

Company culture has a major impact on whether workers feel valued and supported. Creating a company culture where an employee has confidence that a request for reasonable accommodation will be taken seriously and that all medical information shared will be kept confidential goes a long way to creating a disability-inclusive workplace. When an existing employee is experiencing difficulties at work due to a disability, front-line supervisors and managers are frequently the first people they contact. Hiring managers and recruiters are the first people candidates and new hires get in contact with. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that these company leaders are aware of and trained on relevant legal authorities, company policy, and practice, regarding disability inclusion and accommodation.


What steps should a company take to ensure equal opportunities for all employees, including those requiring accommodations?

Communication is key, and the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) has a great resource on this topic, titled Communicate: External & Internal Communication of Company Policies & Practices. EARN also has a great guide called Inclusion@Work: A Framework for Building a Disability-Inclusive Organization.


What resources or support systems could be implemented to assist employees throughout the accommodation request process?

To streamline the accommodation request process for employees and new hires, employers must establish clear avenues for initiating requests. Ensuring that contact information, whether email or phone number, is prominently displayed further facilitates the process. Employers should also commit to promptly checking and responding to emails or voicemails related to accommodation requests. It is also essential for employers to proactively initiate the accommodation process upon becoming aware of the need, rather than waiting for the employee to formally submit a request.

Additionally, investing in an accommodation tracking system tailored to the company's needs, whether through purchasing or developing one, can greatly enhance efficiency. Even a simple spreadsheet can suffice for tracking purposes if it captures information about each accommodation situation and its resolution. For further guidance, review these examples of accommodation tracking or suggest suitable tracking software. Furthermore, adopting best practices such as establishing a centralized accommodation fund with expedited procurement processes can significantly streamline the overall accommodation process.


Interested parties can refer to JAN's Best Practices in Establishing a Centralized Accommodation Fund and AskEARN’s Centralized Accommodation Programs (CAP) for additional insights and practical implementation strategies.


How does a company determine what constitutes an undue hardship regarding accommodation requests?

Determining what constitutes an undue hardship regarding accommodation requests is a critical aspect for companies navigating the terrain of workplace inclusivity. Much like accommodation itself, the concept of undue hardship necessitates a case-by-case evaluation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in its Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA, details the framework of undue hardship as reliant on an individualized assessment of current circumstances.


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines undue hardship in the following way:

“An employer does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause an ‘undue hardship’ to the employer. Generalized conclusions will not suffice to support a claim of undue hardship. Instead, undue hardship must be based on an individualized assessment of current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense.  A determination of undue hardship should be based on several factors, including:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation needed;
  • the overall financial resources of the facility making the reasonable accommodation; the number of persons employed at this facility; the effect on expenses and resources of the facility;
  • the overall financial resources, size, number of employees, and type and location of facilities of the employer (if the facility involved in the reasonable accommodation is part of a larger entity);
  • the type of operation of the employer, including the structure and functions of the workforce, the geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility involved in making the accommodation to the employer;
  • the impact of the accommodation on the operation of the facility.”


The EEOC emphasizes that if one accommodation poses undue hardship, but an alternative solution exists without such burden, the employer is obligated to provide the feasible accommodation. Furthermore, undue hardship cannot be invoked based on unfounded fears or prejudices towards the individual's disability, nor can it stem from potential morale impacts on other employees. However, employers may establish undue hardship where the accommodation significantly disrupts other employees' ability to perform their duties.


The EEOC also states “undue hardship is determined based on the net cost to the employer. Thus, an employer should determine whether funding is available from an outside source, such as a state rehabilitation agency, to pay for all or part of the accommodation.”.


In navigating the complexities of accommodation requests, companies often encounter challenging situations that require thoughtful resolution. Drawing from the wealth of resources available, such as those provided by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), companies can find guidance and real-world examples to inform their decision-making process. JAN offers a comprehensive repository of accommodation scenarios and solutions, tailored to address diverse disabilities and associated conditions. What may pose a significant challenge for one company could be easily addressed by another, based on their prior experience and resources. By leveraging JAN's A to Z of Disabilities and Accommodations page, employers can explore accommodation ideas specific to various conditions, along with practical examples of real-life situations and solutions.


Additionally, JAN extends its support through free, confidential, one-on-one guidance and technical assistance on job accommodations and ADA compliance. This invaluable resource empowers employers to navigate accommodation requests effectively, ensuring inclusivity and compliance in the workplace. 


How often should a company revise or enhance its current accommodation policy/process?

The rate at which an organization's accommodation policy and procedure are updated or improved depends on its dynamics. An annual assessment, however, is a good idea to identify areas that could improve. Reassessment is also required in the event of organizational changes, such as changes in the department in charge of the accommodation processes or major modifications to workflow protocols. The accommodation framework is updated with changing demands and industry standards thanks to this recurring review.


Should a company collect feedback from employees regarding their accommodation experiences, and how is this feedback used to improve the process?

Within many organizations, it is becoming more widely acknowledged that asking employees about their accommodation experiences is a good practice. These kinds of comments are a great way to get insights that help companies figure out where their accommodations procedures need work. Feedback, for example, may point to equipment installation delays or bottlenecks in the procurement process, requiring the necessary changes to improve efficiency. Companies can improve their accommodation policies to better meet the requirements of their employees and adhere to industry best practices by methodically gathering, evaluating, and acting upon employee input.


Have you heard of any ongoing initiatives or programs aimed at improving accommodations or raising awareness about accommodation options?

Improving workplace accommodations and raising knowledge of available options are the goals of several ongoing projects and campaigns. One noteworthy awareness is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), which is commemorated in October. During this time, numerous businesses hold activities to honor the accomplishments of impaired employees and highlight the advantages they offer to businesses. Furthermore, several organizations create Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with a disability focus to increase internal knowledge regarding different facets of disability. Although not directly targeting accommodations, many employers, particularly federal contractors, implement disability self-identification initiatives to gauge their success in hiring and retaining individuals with disabilities. EARN offers valuable resources on self-identification practices.


For questions regarding workplace accommodations, please contact the Job Accommodation Network or our team.