Employer Perspective: Avoiding the Rabbit Hole

Jai Hooker@Work

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Avoiding the Rabbit Hole: The County of Orange Refocuses on Process to Ensure Reasonable Accommodations

By Azucena M. Coronel, CPDM, CLMS, Manager, Integrated Disability and Absence Management, County of Orange; Kymberly Clay, CPDM, CLMS, Disability Leave Manager, Consultant

The COVID-19 pandemic taught the County of Orange team a lot about how to support employees and avoid the rabbit hole of dark possibilities (to quote the Lewis Carroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) when it comes to disability management precautionary practices. For human resources (HR) and disability management professionals who seek to balance employee demands with employer requirements for service or product delivery, the pandemic reaffirmed the need to communicate and follow established accommodation processes.

During the last few years, HR and disability managers have tripped over guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, mandates from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), dictates from the state, and political debates over masks and vaccines.

We were distracted by changing information, which at times contradicted what we have practiced to stay compliant with state and federal disability laws. During the early days of the pandemic, the county team responded to ever changing guidance and like many employers, we were so focused on supporting employees in every way possible, we did not require documentation to justify requests for time off or accommodations for restructured work schedules.  We granted telework and acknowledged the challenges faced by employees who were primary caregivers in the household, including when lack of childcare was the sole reason for the requests, and even when it may not have fallen within our thoughtfully vetted processes.

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