Most employers are aware that the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, protects people with disabilities from discrimination and requires most employers to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with known disabilities.
Most employers are aware of different types of accommodations for people with physical disabilities but might not be a familiar with accommodations for employees with disabilities that are not visible, such as psychiatric disabilities.
Likewise, most employers are aware of the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which entitles an eligible employee to a total of 12 workweeks of leave during any 12-month period “[b]ecause of a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the functions of the position of such employee.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(a)
But employers might be less familiar with the FMLA provision that the leave “may be taken intermittently or on a reduced leave schedule.” 29 U.S.C. § 2612(b)
A “serious health condition” includes a physical or mental condition that involves “continuing treatment by a health care provider,” 29 U.S.C. § 2611(11); for example, cancer (physical condition) or depression, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (mental health condition).
Accommodations should be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual’s limitations and strengths, work environment and job duties. In addition to accommodations such as flexible workspace and scheduling, leave, and breaks, accommodations could include modification or removal of non-essential job duties or restructuring the job to include only essential job functions.
Managers and supervisors have an important role to play in ensuring that employees with disabilities are provided the appropriate support (rather than criticism) in order to maximize their productivity. Examples of accommodations by management/supervision include:
– Implementation of flexible and supportive supervision style.
– Positive reinforcement and feedback.
– Adjustments in level of supervision or structure, such as more frequent meetings to help prioritize tasks.
– Open communication with supervisors regarding performance and work expectations.
– Additional forms of communication and/or written and visual tools, including communication of assignments and instructions in the employee’s preferred learning style (written, verbal, e-mail, demonstration).
– Development of strategies to deal with problems before they arise.
– Relevant training for all employees, including co-workers and supervisory staff.
So we ask: WHAT IF THAT WERE YOU?
And managers and supervisors, as well as co-workers, should ask themselves: WHAT IF THAT WERE ME? What if I had a serious health condition and needed to maintain my job, not only to support myself and/or my family, but also to maintain my health insurance? What can I do to accommodate this person so that he can perform the essential functions of his job?
Some sources of information about ADA, FMLA, and reasonable accommodations include www.dol.gov/odep (DOL Office of Disability Employment), http://askjan.org (Job Accommodation Network (JAN) and www.eeoc.gov (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
If you have a disability and need assistance in obtaining accommodations as a result of that disability, contact NMPASI at (670) 235-7273; (670) 235-7274; (670) 235-7275 (fax); (670) 235-7278 (tty); or online at www.nmpasi.org. NMPASI may be able to assist through one of its programs, such as Protection & Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness (PAIMI), Protection & Advocacy for Development Disabilities (PADD); Protection & Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR); Protection & Advocacy for Traumatic Brain Injury (PAAT); Client Assistance Program (CAP); or Protection & Advocacy for Beneficiaries of Social Security (PABSS).
Jeanne Rayphand is legal counsel of the Northern Marianas Protection and Advocacy Systems Inc.