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Disability Discrimination Today: An Employer’s Responsibility

This week's post is brought to you by Optis' National Sales Representative, Scott Lenox.

Attend any number of Human Resources/Benefits-related conferences hosted around the nation, and you will hear speakers and conversations regarding the ADA/ADAAA and the return to work process. You will listen to lists of companies that have paid a significant amount of money in settlements. You will hear conference attendees sharing their own personal stories around trying to manage their return to work processes and administering accommodations. The question I raise is, “Why is this still an unresolved issue amongst HR and Benefit professionals today?” After all, the American Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, and the American Disabilities Act Amendments Act was passed in 2008. Organizations have implemented new policies and procedures to adhere to these amendments. Employee handbooks have been rewritten, managers have been trained, and many organizations are even outsourcing much of the administration associated with leaves of absence to their benefits providers and specialists. So why is return to work and accommodations still a theme amongst HR/Benefits professionals, and still so misunderstood?

The answer is because there is still a lack of understanding and tools. The management of these leave events still remains the full responsibility of the employer. Whether you are administering a disability absence internally or outsourcing your leave administration, the employer must interact and manage the responsibility of returning that employee back to work. The risk of paying a large monetary fine or settlement and receiving a public relations “black eye,” has caught the attention of executives everywhere. According to the EEOC, the number of people benefiting from these charges have spiked in the past 5 years alone, from 2,908 beneficiaries in 2008 to 5,347 beneficiaries in 2013. Over that same 5 year span, benefits paid have almost doubled from $57,155,828 to $109,169,275. The risk of mishandling a leave event and the return to work process associated with the leave event continues to be a major concern for organizations. And, until these numbers begin to drop, or at the very least level off, the discussions are going to continue.

So, how can HR/Benefits professionals gain a handle on these individual leave events that may pose such a risk to their organizations? As I stated above, understanding and tools are a large part of the solution. Closer tracking and management of the leave event including return to work are part of the process. Better documentation of communications between the employer, employee, and anyone else involved is crucial. Gaining knowledge and training of the employee’s rights and responsibilities as well as the employer’s is a step in the right direction. Exploring what tracking and management tools are available to assist your organization is paramount. Network with associations, other HR/Benefits professionals, and legal entities to get your questions answered. Read online conversations as well as government websites to help you fully understand the Interactive Process and terminology.

Education and tools available to HR/Benefits teams are endless, but the important point to remember, is that you are ultimately responsible. Disability discrimination is not going away, and if you feel your organization could use assistance in this area, start exploring the tools that are readily available to you so you can avoid the hot seat and the headlines.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Enforcement and Litigation Statistics. http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/statistics/enforcement/index.cfm

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