There’s a bill likely to become law soon that will greatly expand the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s why it’s more important than ever for supervisors to know the ins and outs of managing disabled employees.
A recent EEOC publication answers some of managers’ biggest questions about enforcing company policy while staying on the right side of the law. Here are three areas where many employers get tripped up:
One question many companies face: Are disabled employees ever excused from following the company’s attendance rules?
Answer: It depends on the job.
For some positions, coming to work on time might be an “essential function” of the job– for example, if employees do shift work that requires them to be present at specific times and being late means other employees have to take on a significant burden by doing extra work. In those cases, an employee who’s chronically late can’t perform the job’s essential functions.
But in other jobs, employers might be able to accommodate someone’s tardiness. For example, the company may be able to change the employee’s shift (e.g., 10-6 instead 9-5) or offer some leniency in arrival times without adding any costs or negatively impacting other employees’ work.
According to the EEOC, disabled employees should be held to the same production and performance standards as everyone else — lowering standards because employees can’t meet them is never considered a reasonable accommodation.
The employer’s responsibility is to look for a reasonable accommodation that will help an employee meet those standards.
For example, if a salesperson is disciplined for not making a required number of calls and tells his boss a disability is to blame, that doesn’t mean he’s off the hook — just that it’s time for the company to look into ways to accommodate him.
Violence and disruptive behavior
What if an employee threatens or physically harms a boss or co-worker and then claims it was because of a psychological disability? Do employers have to tolerate that behavior?
The simple answer: No. As the EEOC says, employers have the right to keep their workplaces free of “violence, threats of violence, stealing, or destruction of property” and prohibit other disruptive behavior, like cursing, yelling or abusing drugs and alcohol.
Even when an employee claims a disability was the cause, the employee can still be disciplined or fired, as any other employee would.
The key is consistency. Just like performance and production requirements, disabled employees must be held to the same conduct standards as all employees.
You can read the entire EEOC publication, titled The Americans with Disabilitites Act: Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities here.