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React quickly to disability accommodation requests

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in Firing,Human Resources

Issue: The EEOC is targeting employers who drag their heels on employees' disability accommodation requests.

Risk: Courts could see your delay tactics as illegal "constructive discharge" of disabled employees.

Action: Don't put off such discussions; respond right away. And remind supervisors to forward potential ADA-related requests to you.

Some problems will eventually go away if you wait long enough. But that's not the attitude to take when employees request workplace accommodations for their physical or mental conditions.

The EEOC is gunning for employers who ignore accommodation requests in hopes that the employee will quit. The EEOC will see such actions as "constructive discharge" and view your delay tactics as refusing to participate in the interactive process that's required under the ADA. That's why it's important to respond quickly to accommodation requests.

It's true that it may take time to determine whether an employee's health condition qualifies as an ADA-covered disability. You may need medical reports to show whether the condition substantially impairs a major life activity.

But you should request that medical information right after the person asks for the accommodation. Then, you can make conditional accommodations, pending medical reports.

Case in point: Diabetics sometimes suffer nerve damage, especially in their legs. A diabetic employee in the Sears lingerie department began having trouble walking and asked to cut through the stockroom at the start of her shift, plus be allowed to eat her lunch there.

At first, her bosses gave her permission, but then removed the accommodation. She updated Sears on her medical condition and sent medical reports that recommended she limit walking. After more than a year of no response to repeated requests to use the shortcut, she quit and sued. The 7th Circuit disapproved of the company's "wait-her-out" tactic and sent the case to trial. (EEOC and Keane v. Sears, No. 04-2222, 7th Cir., 2005)

Final note: In many cases, accommodations are easy and don't cost a penny. Sears could have avoided thousands in legal fees by simply letting Keane walk through the stockroom and eat there.

Teach managers the ADA basics

Download a copy of our free three-page report, What Managers Need to Know About the ADA, which you can distribute to supervisors electronically or via paper memo. Go to (click on ADA in our Solution Center).

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