There are many reasons why employees may be reluctant to disclose a disability to their employer; in a recent survey, 76% of employees with disabilities reported not fully disclosing their disabilities at work*. Employers can create an environment that helps their employees feel more comfortable in sharing their disability with the following actions:
Review your local legislation on disability accommodations: Most countries have legislation covering disabled employees’ rights at work. It’s the employer’s responsibility to familiarize themselves with local legislation (for example, in the US, this is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and in the United Kingdom this is covered by the Equality Act).
Create a written disability accommodations policy: Employers should have a clear, written policy that outlines the process for requesting disability accommodations. The policy should include the contact(s) employees should reach out to for their request, a list of information that employees should provide to support their request, information on how the employer will assess the request, and a timeline for handling requests.
Assess what documentation is necessary to support employees’ requests: Employers should avoid requiring excessive documentation (particularly where that documentation may include a cost to the employee) to support an accommodations request. It is best practice for employers to only request the minimum information needed to make a decision, and not to request unnecessary private medical details.
Communicate with the employee: Employers should communicate with the employee who is requesting the accommodation to understand their needs fully. This includes discussing the employee's access needs and the specific accommodation they are requesting.
Document the process: Employers should document the entire process, including the employee's request, any conversations or meetings held, and the final decision made. If a request is denied, employers should provide a clearly documented and accessible explanation of their decision, including whether a similar or partial accommodation can be provided, and employees should have a clear route of communication available to discuss alternative options.
Maintain confidentiality: Employers should maintain the confidentiality of the employee's medical information and only share information on a strictly need-to-know basis. (Note that this may also fall under local privacy legislation.)
Provide the accommodation: If the accommodation request is reasonable, the employer should provide the accommodation to the employee promptly.
Follow up: Employers should follow up with the employee on an agreed frequency to ensure that the accommodation is working as intended and determine whether any adjustments are needed.
Overall, handling employee requests for disability accommodations in a respectful and proactive manner can help employers build a more inclusive workplace and foster positive relationships with their employees. For more information, please see the resources listed below.
Andrea is diagnosed with a disability during her employment and contacts HR to ask about her employer’s disability accommodations policy. Her HR representative provides her with a form to fill out and schedules time to discuss Andrea’s needs. Andrea submits her form, requesting an ergonomic chair, flexible working (a later start time and more days working from home), and reduced work travel. Her employer agrees to the chair and the flexible working arrangement but argues that travel and attending conferences is an essential part of Andrea’s role. Andrea, her manager, and HR meet together to discuss the situation and agree that Andrea will only be required to undertake travel in the region she lives in (with flight times under 4 hours), for no more than 3 days at a time and no more than 5 days a month, and always with at least two weeks’ advance notice. This makes the travel more manageable for Andrea and still fulfills her targets and the employers’ business goals. The agreement is written down and formalized by all parties, and they agree to review the arrangements every 6 months to ensure that it is still meeting Andrea’s needs.
Links to resources:
How to Handle an Employee’s Request for an ADA Accommodation: https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/how-to-guides/pages/requestreasonableaccommodation.aspx
Employers’ Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act: https://www.hrm.oa.pa.gov/workplace-support/disability-svcs/Documents/employers-guide-accommodation.pdf
Make It Safe for Employees to Disclose Their Disabilities: https://hbr.org/2021/06/make-it-safe-for-employees-to-disclose-their-disabilities
USA Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/jobaccommodations
England/Scotland/Wales disability and equality guide for employees and employers: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/employment-workplace-adjustments
If you are American working outside of America - overview of rights for accommodations and ADA: https://askjan.org/articles/Applying-the-ADA-in-a-Global-Economy.cfm
Supporting Accommodation Requests: Guidance on Documentation Practices: https://www.ahead.org/professional-resources/accommodations/documentation