It's time to get serious about making accommodations for your future, potentially disabled, workforce.
Organizations on the whole have been trying for years to piecemeal together solutions to support individuals with disabilities. But most companies don't have a system in place and accommodations are handled on a person-by-person basis. This can lead to misplaced paperwork, misconduct, confusion, and a potential lawsuit on your hands. And disability claims are ticking up.
More than a third (36.1 percent) of all charges from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the 2020 fiscal year qualified as disability claims. The number of lawsuits filed under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) in federal court soared to an all-time high last year, according to data compiled by Chicago-based law firm Seyfarth Shaw, which represents defendants in these cases. With a downturn looming, these cases are only likely to rise. During the last recession, beginning in 2008, private sector discrimination filings with the EEOC swelled by a staggering 15 percent, the biggest jump in the federal agency's 44-year history.
Another reason for the rise may be due to serial plaintiffs filing dozens or hundreds of cases using the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act to extract tens of thousands of dollars in settlements, according to The Washington Post.
All companies should be ADA compliant, but small-businesses owners are most at risk. Not only are they often unaware of violations and don't have systems set up to handle accommodation requests, but fixes may be expensive and physically difficult to make, especially if the company is located in an older building. Luckily, there are tools businesses can use to ensure they comply with the ADA on all measures and provide individuals with disabilities the care they need. Here are a few.
Consider a middleman.
Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. In general, the ADA defines an accommodation as "any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities." This can include a variety of changes, such as making existing facilities accessible, altering work schedules, providing interpreters, and modifying current equipment.
To meet these obligations for its more than 13,000-person workforce, the San Francisco-based delivery company Gopuff is weighing whether to use Disclo. The latter company, which is based in Austin, offers to collect, verify, and manage reasonable accommodation requests with a secure health disclosure system. Employees submit a description of their disability and desired accommodation to their employer on the platform. The platform then verifies that disability through a health care provider, ensuring that the individual who made the request does in fact have a disability that requires an accommodation.
Gopuff is still considering its options, but doing something is essential, says Pete Lawson, head of talent acquisition at Gopuff. He notes that utilizing a service can help keep record-keeping issues at bay as well as provide a buffer between companies and employees. "It really does not put the employer in the middle when it comes to deciding whether an employee's personal situation meets the criteria for administering accommodations or support," says Lawson.
Call in reinforcements when necessary.
If employees have a disability for which they suddenly request time off, there are services you can use to fill those positions part time easily without needing to make another full-time hire. Some services, like Handoff, which launched earlier this year, use software to enable job-sharing, or two employees who work to cover one full-time role. The ability for employees to shift their hours as needed without having to worry about slacking on work may help employees, especially those with disabilities, who may hide their disability out of fear of negative consequences.
Similar services are geared toward the hospitality industry specifically. Qwick, the software platform, helps hiring managers at bars, restaurants, and hotels order up staff similar to the way one orders an Uber. The service charges a 40 percent fee on top of each worker's pay, which is often cheaper than most temp agencies. Using services like these can also help bring on potential full-time employees, while allowing those who currently work more flexible hours.
Designate an intermediary.
Most companies are aware of the steps that need to be taken to make the workplace more accessible to employees with physical disabilities. But there are many chronic illnesses and disabilities that aren't visible, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression. Employees may hesitate to contact HR in these situations lest they risk undermining an employer's trust in their ability to do their job. In these cases, designated staff there to assist can make all the difference.
At Flyhi, an Aurora, Colorado-based cannabis delivery service, a "first aider" is available to work with those who have psychological issues such as stress or anxiety. That person is available to chat with other employees securely on messaging platform Signal and makes appointments for video calls as well. The aider doesn't need a psychology degree necessarily, but can work as a buffer between employees and management to advocate for those who may not feel comfortable asking for an accommodation or time off themselves.
"Employers need to accept that everyone has their challenges, and just because you can't see what's going on with someone like you would if they were in a wheelchair or blind, that doesn't mean that they don't need accommodations made for them," says Ashley Chubin, COO of Flyhi.