Make RTW and Stay-at-Work Support the Cornerstone of Your ADAAA Strategy
By Brian Kost, MA
Sr. Director Workplace Possibilities
Litigation against employers filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) is on the rise. From 2013 to 2017, employment-based ADAAA litigation is up nearly one-third, 32.4%, reaching 2,494 cases in 2017.1
While familiar with the premise of the ADAAA, many employers still struggle with how to help their employees stay at work while experiencing a health condition or return to work after a disability leave. Employers can better meet their ADAAA obligations by working with their vendor partners to create a proactive program that treats the whole person and tailors a plan to support their unique needs. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind when implementing a program.
Provide Stay-at-Work Support
Employers may be used to the claims-first approach in which they can only start helping an employee after he or she is on a disability leave. However, comprehensive disability management programs can help before the employee loses time from work with a proactive approach in identifying employees who may need assistance. Some programs offer management training, which can help supervisors understand the signs or symptoms and the importance of referring employees to their human resources manager for assistance. Other programs may have disability consultants through the third-party administrator or carrier who can evaluate an employee’s situation and propose accommodations or adjustments that may alleviate symptoms and increase productivity.
Engage Employees Early During Their Leave
For an employee who does have to take a disability leave, being engaged with the disability management program early on can go a long way to help ensure their return to work (RTW) is successful. Standard Insurance Company (The Standard) recently surveyed employees who experienced a disability for at least six to eight weeks and received workplace accommodations.
Of those employees surveyed, 44% were able to return to work when they worked with their human resources manager and were communicated to as part of their leave.2 That’s because this approach can help identify any needs or limitations the employee may have when coming back to work and can start the discussion about reasonable accommodations right away.
Implement Reasonable Accommodations
Finding and implementing accommodations — for either a stay-at-work or return-to-work plan — doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Our survey found that simple accommodations, which may not cost an employer anything, can be helpful in supporting an employee’s condition. Consider:
- 61% of employees said they were provided with flexibility to attend appointments.
- 58% were provided with schedule modifications.
- 40% were provided with workstation modifications.
- 38% undertook temporary job duties.2
Overall, 93% of employees said they could perform their job effectively after receiving support from their employer.
A comprehensive approach to ADAAA support helped one employee return to work four weeks earlier than anticipated. After having surgery for a hernia repair, a lab manager was limited by his physician in the amount of weight he could lift. An ergonomic evaluation was completed by his employer’s disability program to help identify potential accommodations and workarounds. After some discussion, his role was temporarily adjusted to reduce the amount of weight that he was required to lift while he recovered. After he was fully recovered, he was able to resume his normal duties. Many accommodations are this simple — applying processes and resources that employers already know from their disability RTW process.
Employers can empower employees with the help of workplace accommodations and a sound return-to-work and stay-at-work strategy. Not only can this create a workplace that supports employees with health issues, but it also can help an employer meet ADAAA obligations.
- Federal reporting on ADA-based lawsuits (see Figure 2) retrieved from http://www.uscourts.gov/news/2018/07/12/just-facts-americans-disabilities-act.
- Data based on a survey of 528 participants conducted in April 2017 by a third-party research firm hired by Standard Insurance Company. Results can be retrieved at https://www.standard.com/eforms/19911.pdf