How well are you handling the burden of a beefed-up ADA?

Ever since the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) took effect in 2009, employers have struggled to comply with an ever-more complicated set of standards on what qualifies as a disability and the slippery definition of “reasonable accommodation.” A new study casts light on companies’ acute ADA pain points – and how they’re dealing with them.

The ADAAA broadened the definition of what constitutes a disability, following a decade of Supreme Court decisions that narrowed those definitions.
The new regs were expected to spark a rise in the number of employees seeking accommodations under the ADA – and with the loosened standards in the new law, firms have had no choice but to make those accommodations available.
Among the key changes brought about by the ADAAA:

  • List of “major life activities” expanded
  • “Mitigating measures” eliminated
  • Intermittent conditions qualify as disabilities
  • New “regarded as” provision, and
  • Minor or transitory conditions excluded

The Reed Group and Spring Consulting’s recent white paper, Survey of Employer Practices Related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, examines the fallout of these changes, including:

  • The steps employers have taken to deal with the new ADA regs
  • The most common snags they’re running into, and
  • How they treat leave as an ADA accommodation.

A quick look at some of the research findings:

50% unsure of ‘undue hardship’

As HR and benefits are well aware, firms are able to deny an ADA request if they can prove it presents an “undue hardship” to the company.
Problem is, 50% of employers have difficulty or extreme difficulty determining whether an accommodation presents an undue hardship on them.
The study also highlighted the three accommodations that present the greatest challenge to employers:

  • scheduling (cited by 41% of firms)
  • reassignment to a vacant position (38%), and
  • job restructuring (27%).

The study listed coordinating ADA with FMLA and other types of leave, clarifying essential functions, determining what is a reasonable intermittent absence and managing staffing-related issues as the ADA issues that caused firms the most disruptions and headaches.
When it came to leave as an accommodation, the most challenging issues employers cited were:

  • recognizing when they can deny leave requests (3.86 on a 5-pt. difficulty scale), and
  • determining how long leave should be (3.67 on 5 pt. scale).

Beyond the ‘interactive process’

By now, employers know engaging in the “interactive process” is an absolute must if the ADA could be in play. Failing to do so leaves companies without a leg to stand on in court should an employee file a discrimination lawsuit.
But effectively safeguarding your company requires more than simply engaging in the interactive process.
Here are four ways the study suggests to ensure your company has all its bases covered when it comes to ADA administration:

  1. Invest in regular manager training. No doubt HR and benefits know all about handling accommodation requests. But it’s just as important to make sure all managers are trained on the ADA’s definition of a disability and the importance of handling any potential request consistently. And this training should take place regularly – to remind veterans and make sure new managers are always up to speed.
  2. Make sure all necessary documentation is in place. It doesn’t matter whether a company engaged in the interactive process if it doesn’t have the documentation to show what it did and why it made its decision. This should include: written job descriptions that include essential functions policies and procedures on ADA administration and forms related to accommodations.
  3. Set clear expectations when leave is the accommodation. Courts have sided with employers that require workers on leave to follow standard call-in policies. This will help you keep track of what is going on with the employee and help your firm plan.
  4. Consider using available tech options. The study found that 67% of firms still use paper files and 44% rely of Excel spreadsheets to track ADA activity, which makes it easier for errors to occur. There are plenty of tools available to help with tracking.

The survey was completed by 270 employers of various sizes across the U.S.