Imagine this scenario: You’re a supervisor in a factory and Betty, a member of your team who’s widely regarded as a hypochondriac, comes to you and says, “Since last week something is slowing down my muscles. And I haven’t been able to keep up with the line. Can you do something to help me?”

What would you say? No doubt you’d be tempted to say, “Look, Betty, we’re ALL under pressure. Just try to work through whatever you’ve got. It’ll most likely go away.”

That could be a very expensive mistake.

This example is based on a real case. A worker made a similar complaint that was ignored by her supervisor. A few weeks later she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease and she sued her company for an ADA violation. She won.

The issue here is what’s called “failure to accommodate.” Here’s what it means to you. When somebody like Betty tells you she has an ailment that affects her ability to do her job, she’s asking you for an ADA accommodation (whether she realizes it or not). This is serious business, and you as a supervisor must have your ears carefully tuned to what you might call “ADA code.”

If you don’t recognize Betty’s complaint for what it is, you’ll very likely blow it off and risk getting sued. If you do recognize it for what it is, you’ll go to the next step and engage in what’s called the “Interactive Process,” which is THE key to avoiding ADA lawsuits. In a nutshell, the ADA Interactive Process means you must begin a dialogue with the employee — right then and there — in an attempt to find a reasonable accommodation. You don’t have to identify the accommodation in that first discussion (in fact, accommodations aren’t always possible). But what you can’t do is ignore the request.

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