New year, new goals: making ADAAA support a top priority

By Jeffery D. Smith

The conversation around accommodating employees is changing. Over the past few years, there’s been a shift in many clients’ mindsets when it comes to discussing Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) compliance and how to best meet employees’ needs in the workplace. Before, many employers saw outsourcing ADAAA services as another offering they needed to vet and an additional cost coming out of their budget.

As employers become more aware of the risk of ADAAA-related lawsuits, more employers are recognizing the need for and value of outsourcing these services to help provide accommodations that are tailored to employees’ specific needs.

As more of your clients adopt this mindset, the new year can be a good time to reach out and ask if outsourcing ADAAA services will be a priority for them in the future. While these don’t provide helpful ADAAA support, there are services that can help employers meet their compliance obligations. To help guide the conversation about the benefits, here are a few key points that highlight how working with a disability carrier can help address employees’ stay-at-work and return-to-work needs.

Maintain ADAAA compliance

If and when an employee accommodation need arises, it’s important that your clients are prepared. Mishandling, delaying or refusing assistance could result in an employee-filed complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — or worse — a lawsuit for failing to accommodate a disabled employee. Highlight the value disability consultants can provide to your clients by helping address accommodation needs and assisting clients with their compliance obligations.

Take work off HR’s overflowing plate

Many HR professionals today are tasked with managing benefits plans, employee financial wellness programs, payroll, and recruitment and retention efforts. Employee accommodations requests often fall on an already overloaded plate. And, for most HR professionals, ADAAA and ergonomic accommodations are not their area of expertise. Therefore, they may not know what resources are available and what equipment can help an employee’s specific situation.

Fortunately, disability carriers can help alleviate this additional stressor for HR professionals. Some disability carriers provide consultants who can work directly with an employee to get the details that inform what accommodations support may be necessary. Consultants are able to ask an employee about their functional capacities and limitations, and how their health condition may impact their ability to perform their job. In addition, they also can help HR managers develop an accommodations plan, source equipment and coordinate installations — giving time back to your client’s HR team to focus on other responsibilities.

What’s more, the recommendations provided aren’t a take-it-or-leave-it type of option. The process with a consultant is collaborative, and employers will weigh in throughout the process and have a final say in the type of accommodation(s) provided.

Offer Neutrality

It’s useful to have a neutral party to work with an employee and their medical team to gather health-related information to help inform accommodations, as employees may be hesitant to discuss sensitive topics in the workplace. A recent survey conducted by Standard Insurance Company found 37 percent of employees are uncomfortable discussing their health condition with their HR manager, while 54 percent are uncomfortable speaking about this topic with their direct supervisor.

Allowing a disability consultant to manage this process can help ensure employees have someone to talk to about their condition and that employees receive accommodations tailored appropriately for their situation. Whether it’s a modified schedule, ergonomic equipment or reduced job duties, tailored accommodations can help reduce an employee’s symptoms and boost productivity.

Create Awareness of Available Resources

Once your client has bought into the idea of outsourcing ADAAA services, remind them — awareness is a key aspect needed to help any program succeed. In order for a program to thrive, it’s critical that the offering is communicated effectively to the necessary staff members.

Employers can work with their disability carrier to provide onboarding materials that can be shared internally to everyone from leadership to direct supervisors. Most disability carriers have an FAQ, sample newsletters, video tutorials and process documents that explain how the services can help and when is the right time to request the assistance of a consultant.

As more of your clients recognize the need for ADAAA assistance, there’s more opportunity for you to help connect them to the right disability carrier to help. Work with them as they set their new year’s goals and make sure ADAAA compliance is at the top of the list.


Jeffery D. Smith is the Workplace Possibilities℠ program practice consultant for The Standard, and has worked in the vocational rehabilitation field for more than 30 years. In his role, Jeff is continually looking at ways to improve the Workplace Possibilities program to provide new and better stay-at-work and return-to-work services for both employers and employees. He shares the benefits of the program with new and existing clients, creates white papers and writes case studies to help make a difference for employers who are looking to be more successful in managing employee absence and disability.  Jeffrey is a member of the 2019 Cal Broker editorial advisory board.