When an employee is granted a reasonable accommodation request, it should not be seen as an additional perk given to a lone employee, but a valued worker receiving a tool they need to do their job to the standards expected because of a medical limitation.
In some cases, though, other employees and even some managers may resent employees that receive accommodation requests, especially if their medical needs are not immediately apparent to others in the office.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently alleged in a lawsuit that American Security Insurance Company violated federal disability discrimination law when it fired an employee because she suffered from Type II diabetes. The company originally granted the employee the ability to work from home as an accommodation for her illness. However, it quickly became clear that many in the firm were not pleased with the decision. The EEOC claims the employee’s supervisor “constantly chastised” her and “criticized her performance without basis” before firing her.
Working from home can be a reasonable accommodation for employees in certain cases, as is granting an employee with special needs additional telework opportunities. The Americans with Disabilities Act favors an interactive process for deciding on an accommodation. That means that employees and employers should discuss the request, offer possible solutions and come to the best agreement for all parties involved.
The EEOC argues in its case that managers and supervisors are a leading cause of employment discrimination claims. This likely comes from managers and supervisors not being involved in the accommodation process, or understanding the local, state, and federal laws on reasonable accommodations. This is true for federal employment managers as well. In any workplace, every employee - whether they manage employees or not - must know and understand reasonable accommodation rules. This is so that they know what options are available to them based on their unique medical conditions, but also so they can work with those that are working with a special accommodation.
Federal agency human resource leaders must ensure that they accurately track the accommodation process so that there are no misunderstandings. Employees need to know what accommodations are available to them, how to request accommodations, along with the expectations that come once an accommodation is met or the reasons why an accommodation could be denied.
More than anything, human resources staff, managers and supervisors, and employees must keep open lines of communication. Understanding why a person needs an accommodation and learning how it helps them do their job can be a critical piece of ensuring that workplaces remain positive places to work.
This communication can at times get lost in large organizations like federal agencies. In the end, everyone has the same goal: to do great work. Reasonable accommodations are a way to help managers and employees do just that.
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