Thursday, October 29, 2015

The universe said I should take the day off….

Bizarre excuses for calling in "sick"

CareerBuilder has published its annual survey on sick day usage and excuses. As usual, it’s both hilarious and revealing. Take a look at the link.

The survey reveals that 38% of employees call in sick when they aren’t actually sick. No surprise there, but still pretty disappointing. That’s up from 28% in last year’s survey. Of those that weren’t really sick, 27 percent said they had a doctor’s appointment (ok, that’s legit), the same percentage said they just didn’t feel like going, 26% said they needed to relax, 21% said they needed to catch up on sleep and 12% blamed bad weather.

Thirty-three percent of the employers responding said they have checked to see if an employee was telling the truth after calling in sick – up from 31% last year. So, nearly the same numbers of employers are suspicious of call-ins as the number of employees calling in who aren’t really sick.

The most common way to check up on employees was asking for a physician’s note; followed by nearly 50% calling the employee to check. What I find amusing is that 33% of employers checked employees’ social media posts, and caught employees in lies! (Go figure, people still don’t seem to get that the internet isn’t really private.)

This type of abuse isn’t new; it’s a common issue most employers deal with. But the ways we discover the abuse have changed a bit. It used to be that management would hear through the "grapevine" or an employee is seen out and about in the community enjoying himself when he should be at home coughing and sneezing and tending to a fever. Now, we still may find out through the "grapevine", but the grapevine is now electronic and being seen out and about is via a photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

How do we curb abuse? I think it’s safe to say we can never hope to eliminate it. However, there may be some ways to make it less easy, and seem like a bit more risky for an employee to fudge on the reason she called in.
This morning I read an excellent post by Jeff Nowak who writes FMLA Insights. While the question Jeff is answering initially relates to curbing FMLA abuse, his advice applies to every leave request made by an employee. Ask every employee who requests leave (or is calling in)

  • What is the reason for the absence?
  • What essential functions of the job can they not perform?
  • Will the employee see a health care provider for the injury/illness?
  • Have they previously taken leave for this condition? If so, when?
  • [If they are calling in late in violation of the call-in policy], when did the employee first learn he/she would need to be absent? Why did they not follow the Company’s call-in policy?
  • When do they expect to return to work?

Read through the whole post. Jeff gives great advice and some tools you can use today to help curb abuse of sick time in general, and FMLA specifically.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Know Your Obstacle

And when to find another path

I guess I’m waxing a little philosophical today about the obstacles we all face at one time or another. Either that or I’m just too lazy to write about yet another NLRB ruling, or potential new employment law. (Those are getting a bit repetitive, aren’t they?)

We all run into them, whether in our personal or professional lives. Something is standing in the way of a goal, and we need to get to the other side in order to succeed.

Let’s say that obstacle is the proverbial brick wall. When faced with this wall, most of us will take some time to assess how we can breach it and reach our desired goal. There are those that will simply blast through without another thought about whether that’s the best way. Most of us, I think, will take a bit more thoughtful approach and consider other options.

Can we get over the wall? Do we have the resources (a ladder tall enough, material to build steps, the willpower or strength), either metaphorically or actually? Is it possible to go around it, or does the wall encircle our goal? Can we tunnel our way under the wall? Do we have the material or resources to do that?

Eventually, in many cases we decide that the best way is to work to create an opening in that wall. Maybe a door, a window, or just enough of an opening to see through and maybe enlist the help of someone on the other side. If we can just make our case convincing enough, maybe that person will open the wall for us, advocate for us. So, we start chipping away hoping to make some progress.

Part of thinking about the how, is considering the why of our need to conquer this obstacle. 

Is the process worth the goal? Will the effort be equal to the value of the goal? Sometimes the hard work, challenges and potential hardships necessary to get to the goal will not be in line with your overall values. You need to decide if the goal is worth whatever sacrifices you may have to make.

How immediate is the need at this time? Does reaching the goal right at this time affect the value of the goal? How much of a priority in your life is the goal? There are times when choosing to wait a while (and maybe time will make the wall less impenetrable) is the smarter approach. Or, the immediacy is paramount to your survival (either personally or professionally) and blasting through, or at least going full speed ahead, is advisable.

Is it really your goal? Is reaching it really valuable to you, or are you concerned about what others will think if you *gasp* fail? Choosing to walk away doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Did you choose the goal, or was it chosen for you? What does it really mean to you and your life?

So, here we are, chipping away at that brick wall. Time goes on. Maybe we succeed in breaking through, or at least break through enough that we can see our goal is within reach and it seems likely we’ll get there in a reasonable length of time. Wonderful!

It’s those other times when we need to make a decision. When chipping away isn’t really resulting in enough progress. Or the process makes us realize that the goal may not really be attainable. Have we moved from chipping away to beating our head against the wall in frustration or desperation? Not good.

So, when the environment is your professional work life and there are people who are impeding your progress, or the culture of your organization is such that there are people who are less interested in what your goal would mean to them than other goals, you have a decision to make. Are you bruised and battered from beating against that wall? Or are you just tired of the effort with little progress?

It may be time to choose another path to your goal. There most likely is another path where that brick wall doesn’t exist and you can be more successful. That may be at another organization. The trick is knowing your obstacle, knowing what it will take to surmount it, and knowing when to follow another path.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Happened at the Worker Voice Summit?

Maybe not much…..

On October 7th, the White House hosted a Summit on Worker Voice, a one-day event focused on promoting organized labor. The event featured panel discussions involving workers, union officials and organizers, and so-called "model" employers. Organizations representing business were not invited.

So, what happened? What were the takeaways for the day? Good question, while there was some media attention in the run up to the October 7th event, there has been very little commentary or reporting since then – at least not much by the mainstream media or even in the HR blogosphere. I was curious, did some looking around and didn’t come up with anything substantive. I did however, read President Obama’s opening statement. I found it interesting to say the least.

This will be a long post; just a head’s up. Settle in, kick back – or not – whatever suits your fancy today. 

Let’s stroll through some of the President’s comments, shall we?

"And we convened this summit because we believe that this is a country where if we work hard, everybody should be able to get ahead; that the story of America has been each successive generation, getting an education where they could, working hard, saving, scrimping, making sure their kids get a little something better, hoping that at the end of the day they’re able to have a home of their own and be able to retire with some dignity and some respect, have basic benefits so that if they get sick, their families aren’t bankrupt."

On this, we agree. Hard work, initiative, and common sense family financial management are all keys to personal success. These are all components of personal responsibility for our own welfare and success. 

"And so the biggest challenge America continues to have is making sure that everybody in this new economy is participating, everybody who works hard is getting paid a decent wage with decent benefits, everybody has some basic economic security, and that the incredible productivity and wealth and innovation that has been a hallmark of the American economy is broadly based."

Again, we agree! We differ on whose responsibility it is to provide that economic security and how one goes about getting paid a "decent" wage, and so on.

"Wages need to rise more quickly.  We need jobs to offer the kind of pay and benefits that let people raise a family.  And in order to do that, workers need a voice.  They need the voice and the leverage that guarantees this kind of middle-class security. "

Ahhh, would that we lived in a Utopian world where every job provided what every person believed to be an appropriate wage and benefits to raise a family and put us all squarely in the middle class (whatever that really means). But, we don’t. This is not a socialist country (is it?). And realistically, even socialist countries don’t really provide that, do they?

This brings up the subject of the various movements currently going on to demand minimum wages be raised; most notably, the "Fight for 15". This is a union-backed campaign demanding that (primarily) fast-food businesses pay at least $15.00 per hour.

Terrence Wise introduced the President at the summit. Mr. Wise is a second-generation (??) fast-food worker at both Burger King and McDonald's (his mother also works or worked at Burger King). He is also an organizer for the Fight for 15 group. He related that he is paid $8.00 an hour, and is trying to raise three daughters. I can only imagine how difficult that is.

But here are a few points about this issue that I don’t see made too often. Minimum wage jobs are not, and never were, intended to support a family (or even to provide a living to an individual). A job pays what the job is worth – it is not a commentary on the person holding the job. Flipping burgers is not a complicated job, folks. It takes very little training or skill, therefore the labor pool available for such jobs is normally fairly large. A physicist with ten degrees will still only be paid $8.00 an hour flipping burgers at Burger King. Why should businesses be forced to pay far more for a job than its actual value? Maybe the better answer would be for government and business to work together to provide and encourage opportunities for people like Mr. Wise to better their situation by increasing skills/education and therefore allowing them to secure higher paying jobs.

After Mr. Wise’s introduction, the President commented on Mr. Wise and his mother Joann both being at the event:

"This is actually a remarkable moment:  Neither of them make enough money to be able to afford to travel much, so this is the first time Terrence and Joann have seen each other in 10 years. Ten years apart because they don't earn enough to be able to just hop on a plane and visit each other."

Seriously, Mr. President? Are you saying that employers have an obligation to ensure their employees can buy a ticket and hop on a plane to visit someone? When (or why) is that the responsibility of any business? This might be a good time to remind everyone that very few people have access to Air Force One and are able to go anywhere at any time for any reason at tax-payers’ expense.

"And so part of what we’ve got to do is to tap into people who are frustrated about their job paying so little, people who are frustrated about industries that used to be in their town leaving, rightly frustrated about how hard it is to save for retirement, rightly frustrated about the fact that they can be replaced at any time with very little protections -- and make sure that they understand there’s a positive way to deal with these issues that will actually produce and deliver change, and make things better -- not just for them, but for all workers.  We got to help people feel connected and not isolated, and hopeful, not just fearful."

The better way to accomplish this is to rein in the numerous, complicated, duplicative laws and regulations that make it incredibly difficult to run a business in this country. You know, the businesses that actually create the jobs you want? Yeah, those. Create a business environment that encourages companies to stay in this country and expand. That environment shouldn’t include unions that today really only serve to create an overly antagonistic and complicated relationship between employees and the companies they work for.

By the way, the comment about "very few protections" is ludicrous. As an HR pro, I’m quite well aware of the tens of thousands federal, state and local employment laws and regulations that provide numerous and varied protections to employees in every area the President complains about. In fact, the layering of such laws and regulations (local upon state, state upon federal, etc.) are part of the problem. There are many duplicative laws (those that cover the same topic at two or more levels of government (local, state and federal) that don’t provide any more protection, but only make doing business that much harder. I think it’s pretty clear that most of these laws/regulations that are passed every year are really political statements and designed to curry favor with voters who don’t fully understand the current state of such things. If you aren’t aware of these laws/regulations, email me or hit me in the comments section and I’ll be happy to clue you in.

The President began his wrap-up by relating what he described as "common-sense principles for what it means to work in America."

"First -- if you work hard in America, you should earn enough money to support your family. And if you’re working two jobs, like Terrence, then your family should never have to go to bed hungry.

Second -- if you work hard in America, you should earn decent benefits.  And that means access to the two bedrock sources of lifelong security, and that is affordable health coverage and retirement savings.  

Third -- if you work hard in America, you have the right to a safe workplace.  And if you get hurt on the job, or become disabled or unemployed, you should still be able to keep food on the table.

Fourth -- if you work hard in America, you should be able to take care of those you love, which means having sick leave and parental leave and affordable child care, and predictable schedules that give your family some stability.

Fifth -- if you work hard in America, you should have a pathway to the education and training you need to grow your skills and earn raises and promotions and the chance to get ahead.

And finally, if you work hard in America, you should have the freedom to decide for yourself -- without fear or interference -- if you want to join with others to advocate for yourself in the workplace, whether that’s through a union or any other means.  And these are core principles that helped build this country."

First: Yep, working hard and taking advantage of opportunities to better your lot in life should net you the ability to make a decent living and support your family. So – help provide the opportunities, don’t mandate that business be parental and provide everything to everyone.

Second: Yep, "decent" benefits are great. This country has developed (actually demanded) the model for business to provide health insurance, etc. to employees. Making it affordable is the challenge. Find a way to make health care more affordable. By the way, the ACA did nothing to control the costs of actual health care (only an attempt to spread the premium cost over more people, thereby possibly reducing the cost to individual premium payers). Also, there is very little that’s affordable about the insurance available under the ACA. Trust me, I know! Employer provided coverage offers way more value and covers more than anything available on the individual market. Thanks. Also, while I believe that companies that can afford to offer decent benefits should do so, not every business can, and shouldn’t be forced to do so – especially when that results in fewer jobs or lower wages. The money has to come from somewhere.

Third: We have laws requiring safe workplaces (OSHA or state equivalents, for example); rather extensive laws. We have unemployment insurance. Is it great? Not really, but what do you expect to get for not working? Again, we’re not a socialist country. While we have programs to provide income to people who are disabled, I agree they need to be reformed. Employer-based disability insurance plans (Short-term disability and Long-term disability plans) are pretty fair and are often offered to employees at no charge). When it comes to the federal programs – Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income – Mr. President, they need work. When it takes years for truly disabled individuals to get benefits because of the bureaucratic bs, the system is broken. When fraud can flourish, the system is broken. When there’s a hard income line that cuts people off from all benefits when their income reaches a ridiculously low threshold, the system is broken. Why would you force people to stay completely unemployed or seriously underemployed? How is that responsible or effective? What about a sliding-scale plan where people with disabilities can still work and earn money but keep their health benefits? They continue to be productive, contribute and help themselves, but still receive the support they need. Apparently, this administration cares more about fast-food workers than it does about people with disabilities. Again, trust me on this, I know!

Fourth: See my 2nd point above. Predictable schedules? Yep, that would be nice. But maybe you should have an honest discussion with the retail, food service and health care industries (among many others). They provide products and services that consumers demand (retail/food service) and need (health care). The consumer wants these things at all hours, on all days at all times of the year. Businesses employ human beings. Human beings get sick, go on vacation, quit and get fired. The work still needs to be done. Not every employee wants to work the night shift all the time. Not every employee wants to even work the day shift all the time. Not every employee wants to work on the weekends or holidays all the time. Somebody has to do the job. It’s not always predictable.

Fifth: Yes! We all want these opportunities! So, work to help provide them. Work to help make education more affordable and available. Work to make job-skill training more available. Don’t mandate that raises, promotions and all the good things that hard work offers simply be given to everyone regardless of education, skill, experience and effort. Work to help promote business in this country and build up our economy – so the higher-paying jobs are available.

And yes, we should have the freedom to decide for ourselves if we want to join with others to advocate for ourselves in the workplace, whether that’s through a union or any other means. But we don’t all have that freedom, do we? There are states that allow unions to force employees to be members. Yeah, they can say they don’t want to pay the full dues for union membership, but are still required to pay "maintenance dues" even if they don’t want or agree with the way the union represents them. That’s not freedom, that’s coercion.  

"And these are core principles that helped build this country." Our country was built on the values of hard work and initiative. Not on the premise of providing everything to everyone at all times. You have to work together; you have to fulfill your part of the bargain. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to come to you.

President Obama’s last comment was actually pretty stunning:

"And I’ll end on this point.  You can’t wait for Congress.  No, no, I’m just saying.  We’ve got incredible champions like Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress who are here, but this is a fight on the ground.  We’ve got to change an attitude and mindset that says there’s nothing we can do, or giving workers more voice means inefficiency and we won’t be competitive, or suggests that there’s a contradiction between economic growth and decent wages, or suggests that we should have a race to the bottom with other countries, or suggests that somehow the current arrangements in which a growing amount of what we produce in this country going to the top .001 percent is in the natural order of things and is somehow fair and just."

Well, he’s pretty much taken the "can’t wait for Congress" thing to the bank, hasn’t he? Bypassing legislation through Executive fiat has been a frequent occurrence with this administration.

The Department of Labor and the White House should not be pimping unions. Period. While union representation might be right for some, it is not right for everyone. A recent Gallup poll shows that unionized employees are less satisfied than nonunion employees in the following categories: workplace physical safety conditions, recognition for a job well done, flexibility of hours and job security. A unionized workplace does not equate to workers being more satisfied or better off. Our laws and regulations should reflect that reality, and it should not be the role of government to either encourage or discourage unionization.

Unfortunately that is what the current administration is doing. It shouldn’t be the role of government to undermine business by allowing an out of control regulatory agency to undermine at every turn that business’s ability to manage its workplace and workforce. But, it does. Should we be supportive of an agency that says the following is "protected speech"?

Bob is such a NASTY MOTHER F***ER don’t know how to talk to people!!!!!!! F**k his mother and his entire fu**king family!!!

What a LOSER!!!! Vote YES for the UNION!!!!!!!.

Yeah, the NLRB, in its Perez Pier Sixty ruling, said this employee’s obscene and vulgar rant on Facebook was protected and therefore he couldn’t be fired for directing these comments at his supervisor. Why? Because he ended his comments with "Vote Yes for the Union!" Lovely. This is what we should support? I think not. This is just one of many examples of recent rulings by the NLRB that indicate its (and this Administration’s) biased support of unions in direct opposition to the entities that actually create the jobs they seek to control.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Signs of a future leader

How to recognize employees with the right stuff…

I’ve written in the past (most recently here and here) on leadership qualities, how we develop them and how we choose managers. Leadership (and management) succession have always been HR hot topics, and yet we still seem to struggle with the how-to’s and the wherefores’ of developing and choosing leaders in our organizations.

Korn Ferry, a talent management organization, conducted a global succession planning survey that assessed how companies identified and developed future leaders. "The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are," states Stu Crandell, senior vice president of global offerings at Korn Ferry and the Korn Ferry Institute. This is indicative of the common practice of promoting people because they’re good at the tasks of their job, not because they exhibit good management or leadership traits. One can be a successful and valuable individual contributor and yet not have what it takes to lead or manage.

The Korn Ferry survey had some tips on what signs to look for in potential future leaders in your organization (see the link above for the full survey results), and I’ve added my own perspective below.

Learning agility. Has your employee taken what he’s learned from previous experiences and applied it in different or new situations?

Self-awareness. Is your employee able to identify her own strengths and weaknesses? Has she taken steps to improve where necessary?

The drive to be a leader. Does your employee seek out more challenging opportunities inside and outside of work?

Being able to adapt. Closely related to taking risks is being able to adapt when the outcome is not as expected or desired. Things are constantly changing in business today. Does your employee work best with clear direction and a roadmap? If so, he will most likely struggle with constantly changing priorities. Leaders need to the ability to adapt to their surroundings as well as to the needs of the company.

Integrity and honesty. Leaders need to tell the truth, without fear and without always hedging their bets. When faced with a moral or legal issue, does your employee choose the ethical and legal course of action?

Grace under fire. When problems arise, teams look to their leaders for direction, but if a leaders isn’t readily available, they will next turn to the person who has shown he can keep his cool and who has a record of handling difficult situations. Nobody wants to work with the person who’s running around pulling his hair out and catastrophizing.

Leaders share their knowledge. They get that sharing gets them even more back. They realize that imparting knowledge leads to more independence and productivity on the part of those they share with. If your employee tends to keep his knowledge and processes to himself, he’s operating in "job security" mode or is covering up inadequacies.

Analyze, synthesize and condense data. Leaders have a way of cutting through the clutter. They can sort through the data and select the most relevant information and sources. They are able to see ahead to the consequences of several paths to goals, based on that data. And they are able to communicate the gist of the situation clearly and directly.

Takes responsibility and ownership. Everyone makes mistakes. Is your employee always willing to admit to making a mistake when something doesn't work out as planned? Is she also attempting to learn from the mistake to avoid it in the future? Also, leaders forge ahead with the tasks given to them and take responsibility for completion of those tasks. They are not seeking instruction and feedback every five minutes on how to go about those tasks.

Willing to take risks. There are times when taking a risk is the right thing to do. Being willing to take calculated and informed risks is necessary for a leader of any organization. Not having an outcome guaranteed but forging ahead is an important characteristic to lead the organization.

Leaders have initiative. Is your employee able to quickly identify what needs to be done, and is able to do those things with only minimal prompting or supervision? These are the folks who often ask for more work should they find themselves with down time.

Leaders think independently. They know they don’t have all the answers, and ask for others’ insight when necessary, but they draw their own conclusions. They do not defer to the pack to avoid confrontation or avoid having to make a decision. Does your employee lead or follow the pack?

Leaders are passionate. They feel strongly about their views and don’t shy away from expressing them. They back up their views with data, evidence and other information, but are strong decision makers.

Assume informal leadership roles. Does your employee voluntarily (and naturally) take on leadership roles either inside or outside of the workplace?

If those who have been identified as future leaders in your organization don’t exhibit most of these traits, it’s time to engage in more development activities, or time to select new candidates for leadership roles.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Have an ADA Accommodation Request?

Tips on how to get it right

You’d think it would be fairly easy. Have a conversation with an employee with a disability about what is necessary to allow him to perform the essential functions of his job, then provide it and everyone is happy. Right? Apparently not, since there are so many ADA claims filed each year - 25,369 in 2014 according to the EEOC. Those charges resulted in about $95 million in monetary benefits to claimants in 2014, not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation (which I’m sure were significant).

So, here are some steps to take to when you receive a request for an accommodation. Keep in mind, while an employee does have to request an accommodation –it’s not actually necessary for the employee to say "I need an ADA accommodation in order to perform the essential functions of my job." The EEOC provides some examples of "plain language" statements that will be considered a request for a reasonable accommodation:

Example A: An employee tells her supervisor, "I'm having trouble getting to work at my scheduled starting time because of medical treatments I'm undergoing." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example B: An employee tells his supervisor, "I need six weeks off to get treatment for a back problem." This is a request for a reasonable accommodation.

Example C: A new employee, who uses a wheelchair, informs the employer that her wheelchair cannot fit under the desk in her office. This is a request for reasonable accommodation.

A few things you must do, can and should do, and what you cannot and don’t have to do - after receiving a request for accommodation:

You must engage in what is called the "interactive process". This is probably one area where employers miss the mark the most. Too many people make an assumption that no accommodation can be made that is reasonable and so they never even have a conversation. Until you speak with the employee, you don’t know what is needed, or even being requested. It doesn’t require an overly structured and formal process (although for documentation purposes, many companies do formalize it). This can really be an informal discussion with the employee about what the problem is, and what can be done to resolve it to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. You need to find out what limitations or impediments the employee is experiencing that are due to a disability as defined under the ADA. The employee may suggest one or more accommodations, you may suggest others. The conversation needs to be "interactive" and the desired results are that you and the employee agree on a reasonable and effective accommodation if one is deemed necessary.

You can require documentation from a physician to determine if the medical condition is indeed a disability as defined under the ADA. You don’t have to, but you can. (It is recommended that you get appropriate documentation.) Example A above does not give you enough information to determine if the situation would qualify as an ADA defined disability and therefore qualify for an accommodation. Requiring a physician’s certification of disability would be prudent in this case. Once received, you will know if it is a disability, what limitations the employee is experiencing and can give you suggestions on what accommodations would be effective. However, in Example C, it’s quite clear the employee has a disability, so you can move onto what accommodation would be reasonable and effective.

You can negotiate with the employee on what accommodation to provide. You don’t have to provide the very accommodation the employee requests if it’s not reasonable or imposes an undue hardship on your business. Determining undue hardship is very fact-specific to your business operations. The EEOC looks at several factors:

  • the cost of the accommodation
  • the size and financial resources of your business
  • the structure of your business, and
  • the effect the accommodation would have on your business.

If the requested accommodation will cost as much as your yearly budget for facilities maintenance, it may not be reasonable. But what is unreasonable for a small or mid-size company may be perfectly reasonable for a large company.

You don’t have to remove essential job functions, create a new job, or provide personal need items such as eye glasses and mobility aids. The ADA does not require any of that of employers.

You don’t have to continue the process if the employee doesn’t participate. The process is meant to be interactive. This means the employee has to participate. If your employee refuses to engage in a conversation, refuses or doesn’t provide requested documentation that a disability exists, or refuses to consider any accommodation aside from what he demands (and assuming that accommodation is not reasonable or causes an undue hardship), there is nothing for you to accommodate and he loses the protection of the ADA. However, I strongly suggest you keep meticulous documentation should this occur and consulting with an attorney would be advised. Being able to adequately defend a claim for failure to accommodate is in your best interest.

You don’t have to accommodate the use of alcohol or drugs. This question comes up a lot. Alcohol and drug use present special problems under the ADA. While employees who are alcoholic or drug addicted may have a disability under the law, you can require them to meet the same work and performance standards - including not drinking or using drugs on the job - as employees who don’t have a disability. Here are some guidelines to follow when dealing with these issues:

  • Alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disability covered by the ADA. This means that an employer cannot fire or discipline a worker simply for being an alcoholic. However, an employer can fire or discipline an alcoholic worker for failing to meet work-related performance and behavior standards imposed on all employees -- even if the worker fails to meet these standards because of alcohol abuse.
  • Illegal drug use. The ADA does not protect employees who currently use or are addicted to illegal drugs. These employees do not have a disability within the meaning of the ADA and don't have the right to be free from discrimination or to receive a reasonable accommodation. However, the ADA does cover workers who are no longer using drugs and have successfully completed (or are currently participating in) a supervised drug rehabilitation program.
  • Legal drug use. If an employee is taking prescription medication or over-the-counter drugs to treat a disability, you may have to accommodate that employee's use of drugs and the side effects the drugs have on the employee. Much of this will depend on the particular job the employee performs (would use of the drug create safety issues?) as well as other issues.

You should document the whole process. This includes the request, your conversations with the employee, and the final accommodation agreed on with the employee.

You should approach the process with an open mind, be creative and make good faith efforts to provide effective and reasonable accommodations to disabled employees. And in some cases, don’t overly complicate the process. There are times when it just makes better sense to go ahead and provide the accommodation without making the employee jump through unnecessary hoops. Example C above provides a classic example. You don’t need to get quotes on a new desk, or think about providing a new chair that will fit under the existing desk. Just put some blocks under the desk legs to raise the height to the appropriate level. It’s inexpensive, fast and solves the issue. No fuss, no muss. Your employee will appreciate your effort and the ease of the solution, which will likely add to her positive attitude and performance, and you won’t waste time, effort and money going down a long and involved, but unnecessary, road. A win-win situation.

And now for some great resources. If you’re not already aware of it, check out The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has a wealth of information, tools and resources on its website for disability accommodation. There are examples of effective accommodations for all sorts of disabilities; there are forms you can use and templates for having discussions with employees. If you need to speak to a live person, there are folks there who will walk you through the whole process and offer useful suggestions, at no charge. You won’t find a better resource for disability accommodation.

The EEOC also has great information, with examples that will help you understand how the process should proceed, and what the EEOC will look at in determining if your process is adequate. Check out this document on accommodating disabilities.