What supervisors should know about the ADA

Nora Akins

Supervisors do not need to know Congress passed the amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 2008 because the Supreme Court’s narrow definition of disability resulted in the denial of protection for many people with impairments including cancer and epilepsy. Now the definition of a disability is broad. So broad, that many employers do not bother to determine whether the employee qualifies; they simply accommodate. Employers should take the time to determine whether an employee qualifies for protection under this law.

Supervisors need to protect their companies and their employees.

 Supervisors do need to:

Stay away from medical conversations! Most employees share personal information at work. Employers strive to connect with their staff. Employees are more relaxed than ever in bringing home and family matters to work. That is nice. It is good for morale. Here is a bright line supervisors cannot cross. Supervisors should be prohibited from medical conversations about the employee and the employee’s family medical history (Family history is related to Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act). Never discuss whether the condition was due to the employee’s actions. For instance, saying, “Sally smoked like a chimney, no wonder she has lung cancer” is not simply irrelevant, it’s mean. Courts do not take the source of the impairment into consideration to determine whether the impairment constitutes a disability. Stay away from medical conversations!

Tell Human Resources (HR) if you learn of an employee’s disability, hospitalization or impairment. Supervisors represent the company and now the company must respond. Whether an employee tells you or you hear about it through others, HR needs this information. HR has specific legal obligations to meet. Do not sugar coat employee performance! Be honest and upfront about employee performance levels. Covering up issues does not help anyone. The employee needs to be made aware of shortcomings in order to try different ways to succeed. Plus, co-workers become resentful and the supervisor loses credibility when issues are not addressed.

Employees seek attention and information from their supervisor. Supervisors need to know enough about employment laws to manage everyday situations in a legal and respectful manner. It is a difficult job!

Nora T. Akins, of Strategic Management focuses on employer compliance and employee performance by providing management training and refining human resource systems; she can be reached at 873-1735 or nora@managepeopleright.com.

Do not let employees off the hook. Each duty that supports the purpose of the position is an essential function. Each essential function of the position must be performed for the employee to be considered qualified under the ADAAA.

Enforce conduct consistently. Conduct, like performance, must be viewed and responded to consistently regardless of the employee’s ability. Accommodations for an employee with a disability are designed to help the individual stay within the rules. And these accommodations are prospective. Employers do not take back discipline as an accommodation.

Reasonable accommodation might appear to be preferential treatment. It is helpful to recognize the purpose of an accommodation is to remove workplace barriers. Supervisors are in a tough spot when co-workers see an accommodation of an employee with a qualified disability. Supervisors cannot divulge the employee’s medical information or accommodation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission suggests, “ABC company is complying with the law” as the proper response. Another suggested response is, “We have a policy of assisting employees who encounter difficulties in the workplace.”

Employees seek attention and information from their supervisor. Supervisors need to know enough about employment laws to manage everyday situations in a legal and respectful manner. It is a difficult job!

Nora T. Akins, of Strategic Management focuses on employer compliance and employee performance by providing management training and refining human resource systems; she can be reached at 873-1735 or nora@managepeopleright.com.

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