Building Your Foundation: The ADA and Job Descriptions
By Margaret Walsh, MS, CRC, CDMS, CCM
Almost a decade has passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was enacted, yet employers continue to struggle with ADA accommodation requests.
Some feel ill-prepared to make practical job accommodation decisions because information on their employee’s work capabilities is limited or vague. They may also lack specific job information to determine if an accommodation can be made, if it is appropriate for the worker, and if it’s reasonable for the business. These gaps can create significant challenges or cause delays in making sound accommodation decisions.
Employers are under increasing pressure to effectively and responsibly manage ADA requests. An unresolved request for accommodation may create situations in which the worker is not performing their work fully or adequately, or they require total absence from work. In addition to business concerns, there can also be legal implications. Since the passage of the ADAAA, ADA litigation against employers has more than doubled; from 2008 to 2017, filings of ADA cases raising employment discrimination claims rose 216%.1
These trends should encourage companies to take the time to review their internal structure and processes regarding accommodation practices. Are they prepared to comply with the ADA? Can they conduct an effective interactive process in a reasonable period of time? What information is needed to facilitate accommodation decisions which meet the needs of their worker as well as the business?
A key component to successful decisions is the ability to identify essential job functions. This information, in combination with the person’s work capacity is the basis in matching job requirements to the worker’s qualifications. However, when information is outdated, limited in scope, or non-existent, issues can arise which halt the ADA process, create delays, require extra work for the employee or employer, or possibly lead to inappropriate accommodation decisions.
Inappropriate accommodation decisions can have negative consequences for an organization or impact workforce productivity. An employer may provide accommodations beyond what is considered reasonable for the business, in order to avoid employment concerns or legal actions, such as allowing indefinite leave time when there is no indication the employee will be able to work.
On the other end of the spectrum, an employer could refuse to consider adaptive equipment or modified work schedules which can impact the employee’s ability to work or expose them to situations which aggravate or exacerbate their medical condition.
By not having accurate job descriptions, an employer may not be prepared for the interactive discussion or to make appropriate decisions which serve the needs of both the employee and the business.
Employers often acknowledge the need to update and improve the quality of their job information. With well-defined descriptions, human resource personnel may find they are useful for other purposes such as recruitment, safety, and job performance considerations.
Job activities identified as “essential duties” are central to effective accommodation discussions. They are the reason the job exists and the activities a person must be able to perform to be qualified for the job. Therefore, they should be the focus of conversations with the employee. Can they perform those duties with or without a modification? If an accommodation is needed, what might that modification be? Is this a temporary or permanent request? Will this change be reasonable for the business?
One method to ensure a position is defined is through a job analysis approach. A comprehensive job analysis will capture essential and nonessential duties, the physical requirements, environmental conditions, as well as the behavioral/cognitive skills necessary to perform the work. Although the ADA focus is solely on the “essential duties” of a job, other factors should not be overlooked, as they can help to formulate the best work options for an individual.
Job analyses can be completed by internal or external resources. In some cases, the cost of a job analysis is included in a vendor contract; in other cases the job analysis must be contracted separately. Some employers use staff from their occupational health, risk management, or health and safety areas to complete job reviews. Others may have access to these services from their workers’ compensation or benefits provider. Professionals such as rehabilitation specialists, ergonomists, and occupational or physical therapists can conduct job analyses for a fee. They may also be available to train company personnel to perform job reviews, so the business becomes self-sufficient and less reliant on third parties.
Some employers have indicated an outside resource may offer an objective assessment, while others believe their own teams can most accurately depict the critical aspects of their positions. Consideration needs to be given to job factors not easily observed such as those that involve multiple or seasonal work shifts, or similar jobs which vary by location or department. Regardless of who completes the analysis, it is advisable to consider the following suggestions:
- Use a standard form as a guide to structure the review and ensure consistency.
- Start with core or prevalent jobs to obtain documentation with the greatest impact across the business.
- Consider grouping similar jobs or tiered positions into “job families” so one analysis can be applied to multiple positions.
- Remember to schedule periodic job reviews; once formally documented, the follow-up reviews should be more efficient and require less effort.
- Documentation of jobs can be useful for a number of business purposes such as recruitment efforts, job performance measurements, and in organizations invested in safety practices, used to identify job safety considerations.
Employers want to do the “right thing” when faced with an ADA job accommodation requests. Barriers are created when they don’t have the means or methods to facilitate the process and cannot make sound and appropriate decisions. Making the effort to build accurate job descriptions is a best practice that eliminates delays, avoids confusion, and reduces extra work on everyone’s part. It also demonstrates a “good faith” effort to everyone involved in the process!