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Getting your mind around the ADA’s newest traps

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

"Not a whole lot makes an HR person more nervous on a daily basis than an employee needing an unusual sort of accommodation." — Accommodating the Big 3: Pregnancy, Religion and ADA

You probably know by now that when an employee needs to take leave, his or her actual absence can be the easy part to navigate. But just before they go, and after they return ... these are the times when confusing issues of accommodation come into play. And sometimes there's no leave at all, just the day-to-day thorny issue of giving the temporarily or permanently impaired the assistance they need to do the job—without assuming too soon that they need help.

In essence, an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for a qualified individual unless it can prove that doing so would constitute an undue hardship. Attorney and speaker Michael W. Fox began his recent webinar by reminding attendees of two things:

1) The burden is on the employee to ask for a reasonable accommodation for a condition. You don't want to make legally dangerous assumptions. On the other hand, though ...

2) ... there are no magic words that cue the need for an accommodation. Listen close for the tipoff. It could be as simple as hearing, "I'm having trouble getting here on time because of my medical treatments." The word "disability" need never actually be mentioned.

In July, the EEOC released new guidelines on how to treat pregnant workers. So what, exactly, is a "pregnancy-related impairment"? In this clip, Michael described the subtle terminology of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the often-overlooked differences between the two:

Religious accommodations are more an issue now than ever as well. Consider an extreme case: An employee refuses to work on nights when there's a full moon, citing a sincerely held belief that pagan gods forbid him to do so. You've never heard of this "religion"—so you can call him on it, right? Here, Michael talked about how to determine if you really can (spoiler alert: The news is not so good):

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