Coordinating ADAAA Compliance for All RTW and Workplace Accommodations
By Gary Anderberg, PhD
SVP Claim Analytics
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) applies equally to all return-to-work (RTW) and related workplace accommodation activities, regardless of whether the underlying disabling event is work-related or not. This is still news in many places. This is also an area in which a company’s safety/workers’ compensation (WC) apparatus and human resources/benefits functions can help each other — and ill or injured employees with WC or disability claims — by working together and coordinating knowledge and resources. Let’s take a look at how this can play out in real life.
ADAAA compliance begins with a functional job description that is both complete and current, which means that you should be asking whether your organization has functional job descriptions in place for all of the occupations. You should be using the same job description for all aspects of managing RTW for claims, both work-related and not. This is an important consideration because historically, functional job descriptions, if they existed at all, were developed and held by WC or safety managers and often not available to human resources (HR) for handling non-occupational disability events.
One of the most challenging aspects of ADAAA compliance is creating workplace accommodations for returning employees following an injury or illness. This has resulted in RTW being one of the major sources of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission litigation. Sharing job accommodation ideas and resources for optimal RTW plans is a very fruitful area for cooperation between HR and the company’s health and safety and/or workers’ compensation (WC) programs. Joining these typically-separate units for RTW accommodation considerations can help facilitate a seamless and consistent approach to bringing employees back to work.
One major resource that both entities can use is found on the website of the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP).1 This source provides five documents that should be consulted for every RTW event involving temporary or permanent accommodations:
- A–Z of Disabilities and Accommodations
- Searchable Online Accommodation Resource
- Job Accommodations for Return to Work Fact Sheet
- Employer’s Practical Guide to Reasonable Accommodation Under the Americans with Disabilities Act
- Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request
ODEP has provided numerous resources to ease the perceived difficulty in providing accommodations to employees. This guidance is important for employers because some of the concepts, such as what is or is not a “reasonable accommodation,” are not always obvious in some situations.
Note that the ODEP titles do not speak to occupational or non-occupational disabilities; the ADAAA is neutral in this regard. This ODEP website helps build shared turf for non-occupational and WC practitioners as they learn how to collaborate at the intersection of ADAAA and RTW. The world of WC and risk management can look arcane to HR and benefits professionals. The ADAAA looks just as odd to your new partners in the WC program. State-based WC laws and regulations for the most part have never been properly reconciled with the ADAAA. This gives your WC partners an even more complex operating environment than the one you had when you began learning about the ADAAA.
The good news is that help is no more than a few clicks away. Every RTW event — work-related or not — is an opportunity to help an employee get back to life. This is too important to get hung up in HR versus WC silos. Share every resource, and don’t wait to be told to do the right thing.
- The ODEP resources can be retrieved at https://www.dol.gov/odep/return-to-work/employer-accommodations.htm.