Managing Employees with Disabilities: How to Enrich Your Talent Pool and Avoid Lawsuits

Managing Employees with Disabilities
Managing Employees with Disabilities

A diverse workforce is always a competitive advantage for organizations. McKinsey & Company, an international management consulting firm, released a report in January 2018 “Delivering Through Diversity” based on a study that included over 1,000 companies in 12 countries. The report inferred that companies having diverse workforce usually have above-average profitability. Today, more and more companies are attempting to diversify their workforce by hiring people based on their talent and ignoring other factors like ethnicity, gender, and race. But, there are still many employers that are not prepared to have employees with disabilities. Also, there are myriad of regulations regarding employees with disabilities which make the situation complicated. What many organizations do not understand is that having employees with disabilities offer the same benefits as hiring others. Also, people with disabilities make up a valuable market, which could lead to increased revenue and if an employer wants to target that market, they must have people with disabilities in the team as well.

Research suggests that many companies do not provide good opportunities to people with disabilities and overlook the fact that such workers have less absenteeism, higher retention rate and many other advantages. By ignoring this specific group of potential employees, many companies are missing out on a great opportunity to enhance the productivity of their organization.

Here are a few tips on how to better hire and manage people with disabilities for your organization:

  1. Assess the Employee

As an employer, once you are informed about the disability of an employee, you must legally engage in an interaction with the employee to discuss the job-related limitations due to the disability. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for all the employees with disabilities, even if the disabilities are of similar nature, and this calls for individual assessment of different employees. Invite suggestions from the employee and the manager as well. It may require some brainstorming sessions to devise an approach for accommodating the employee. You need to be open minded and carefully consider the employee’s medical condition or personal requests. It’s also advisable to have a legal counsel during the assessment to understand the legal obligations of both the parties.

  1. Create Disability Accommodation Policy

Create an effective policy, in written form, for disability accommodation in your organization. Highlight the need of clear communication between the employee and the HR professionals. Your policy shouldn’t be the typical anti-harassment and non-discrimination guidelines but should also address the options and approaches for accommodating employees with disabilities. Focus on the need of two-way communication about the requirements of the employee and how that might impact the work. It’s also a good practice to designate a specific HR professional for managing employees with disabilities, who is qualified and experienced in this field.

  1. Train All Employees

In many cases, it has been observed that the managers or supervisors are not capable of handling employees with disabilities efficiently and this often leads to lawsuits. Disability accommodation requests come in many forms and employees are not even legally required to disclose their medical condition, unless they are requesting for a related accommodation. In fact, an office conversation in which an employee mentions about their disability could later be used to prove that the employer had a “constructive knowledge” of the disability. If your manager or supervisor is not properly trained, they may subject the employee to some disciplinary action which could be translated as unlawful retaliation. Therefore it’s important to provide proper training to all employees so that accommodation requests and other scenarios can be handled properly.

  1. Documentation

It’s important to properly document every conversation that you have with the employee about the disability or accommodation, and the documentation should be maintained in a confidential medical file. Managers often forget to document brief but crucial conversations. It should be kept in mind that in case of lawsuits the burden of proving that a discussion about accommodation was made falls on the shoulders of the employer. Thus, no matter how brief it is, it’s always recommended to document such discussions.

  1. Follow Up

As an employer, your job doesn’t end with providing accommodation and writing down policies. It’s important to follow up with the employee as well as their manager or supervisor to ensure that everything’s going well. Because, over time, the employee’s health and the job conditions may change. Encourage the employee for open communication to make sure that the accommodation and the policies are effective. Also ensure that the HR professionals handling employees with disabilities are updated and well informed about everything.

Besides adding a new talent pool to your organization, hiring employees with disabilities also gives your brand a strong reputation. Making disability inclusion a part of your work culture communicates a positive message to your current as well as potential employees.

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