Employers have a responsibility to be proactive when they become aware of a problem in their workplace. The highest-profile examples center around harassment and sex discrimination, but it applies to disabilities too. When an employer becomes aware that an employee has – or may have – a disability, they need to sit down with the employee and have a discussion about how the employer can help the employee be successful. Sometimes the problem isn’t a disability – it might be marital strain or family medical problems – so be careful about assumptions. Try to figure out whether the employee is unwilling to do their job or is unable to, at least without some help.
If the problem sounds like it might be a disability, keep talking – this leads into the interactive process required by the ADA. The definition of disability covers the obvious things like needing a wheelchair or being blind, but some disabilities are less visible. Cancer is considered a disability, even if it is in remission. Other disabilities include:
- Chemical sensitivities
- Mental illnesses
- Intellectual disabilities
If the employee has intellectual disabilities but is qualified to do the essential functions of the job, you may need to adjust the training or instruction program to accommodate them. For instance, they might need hands-on demonstrations rather than books or a video.
Service dogs are normal accommodations for mental illnesses as well as for physical disabilities. You can certainly require that service animal be kept under control and not be a threat to anyone. The challenge is often how to balance the needs of the disabled employee with those of other employees, some of whom may be allergic to dogs. If there is no good way to balance those needs, you might want to talk to an experienced employment lawyer before making a final decision. Quality control in a manufacturing environment might also cause challenges.
As always, the goal is to help qualified employees do their job in ways that promote the success of the business; sometimes this appears to take more effort than replacing them but there are costs to hiring and training, with no guarantee that the new employee will be better. Recognizing disabilities and engaging in the interactive process is a good way to help employees be successful for your business.
Thanks to Jean Faure for a great presentation!