Listening well will keep your company in ADA compliance

“Can you do something to help me?”

Repeat those words in your mind. If you hear them — or anything similar — from an employee, you may be on the receiving end of a request for ADA accommodation.

Let’s look at a scenario:

Janet comes to you and says she’s got pain in her back, is having trouble concentrating on her work, and wants to know if you can do anything for her. Turns out Janet has never been a stellar performer. She’s got a reputation as a whiner. And you’re really busy. So you basically blow her off: “Janet, I’m sorry your back hurts, but we’re on deadline here. We need to get this project done.”

Janet slumps off to her cubicle and you hear nothing more about her back — until three weeks later when she files a lawsuit stating that your company failed to accommodate her disability.

You’re thinking, “What? She didn’t even ASK for an accommodation! How can she sue us?”

Turns out she did ask for an accommodation in what you might call “ADA code,” which as a manager you need to speak. She didn’t actually say the word “accommodation,” but when employees mention what could be a chronic medical condition, and ask for you help, they are effectively asking for one.

And you need to respond by beginning an “interactive process” — that is, a dialogue about reasonable measures the company might be able to take to relieve an employee’s distress.

For example, in a similar case to the one just described, a company set up a workstation that allowed a woman with back problems do her work standing. That relieved her back pain and allowed her to continue being productive.

Everybody won — because a smart supervisor was able to recognize that a request for help triggered an obligation under ADA.

photo credit: TheeErin

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