Employers' Top 10 Factors to Successful Reasonable Accommodations Outcomes

Mid-Atlantic ADA Center and the University of Maryland

The University of Maryland conducted a study on Reasonable Accommodations (RAs) using mixed-method approaches (survey, in-depth interview, and focus groups) to examine factors that influence the request for and provision of RAs. With almost 600 participants in the studies (530 in a survey of factors related to accommodations; 39 in focus groups and 19 individual key-informant interviews of employees, employers, and service providers), we were able to explore the factors and dynamics involved in the reasonable accommodation request and provision process.

The information in this summary is intended solely as informal guidance and is neither a determination of legal rights or responsibilities under the ADA nor is it binding on any agency with enforcement responsibility under the ADA.

According to the studies, providing RA involves a six-step non-linear interactive process between the employee and the employer. 

Identify > Disclose > Request > Respond > Implement > Evaluate

  • Identify the need for RA/s
  • Disclose a disability
  • Request the RA/s
  • Respond to the RA request/s
  • Implement the RA/s, and
  • Evaluate the RA outcome/s

From the perspective of employers, the following are the most important factors contributing to successful accommodation outcomes based on the research:

Employers’ top 10 factors contributing to successful reasonable accommodation outcomes

1.  Collaboration is the key to identifying effective accommodations. Effective accommodations are a match between the needs of the employee and the requirements of the job.
2.  Trust is the basis for clear communication between employee and employer. Without it, employees may hesitate to identify their accommodation needs to improve work performance; and employers may attribute performance problems to other factors not related to a disability.
3.  Successful accommodations are measured by both satisfactoriness (enhanced ability to perform the essential functions of the job) and satisfaction (positive response to the outcome).
4.  Creativity and investment of time are important in the provision of accommodations. Accommodations come in “units of one”; each RA request should be considered on an individual basis and requires ongoing communication and collaboration between the employee and the employer.
5.  Optimizing the value of employees to the organization is the desirable outcome of the accommodation process. Accommodations are tools to enhance job productivity.
6.  A proactive approach to workplace supports, including accommodations, leads to positive experiences for all employees. Accommodations should be viewed within the larger context of universal design and return on the investment in human capital.
7.  Workplace accommodation policies and procedures should be clear and explicit for all employees. Direct supervisors and managers may need additional training and assistance in understanding and implementing accommodations.
8.  Credible resources such as the regional Mid-Atlantic ADA Center and the Job Accommodation Network opens a new window are available outside the organization to assist in identifying solutions to a specific RA request. In challenging cases, the more assistance and support you request, the more likely it is you will find a satisfactory solution.
9.  Knowledge of workplace policies and practices that incorporates current information about the ADA and related laws facilitates decision making about accommodations.
10.  Emerging information technologies, such as project meeting and planning software, video communications and social networking, may be accommodation solutions for employees with disabilities that will also maximize the performance of all employees.

Some of these factors are illustrated in the excerpts below:

“…we have a class here that we offer that all of our new supervisors and mid-level managers have to take. It is called “Model Manager” and two hours of that focuses on fair employment processes, things we focus on are FMLA and ADA and disabilities awareness. So our people are very aware; the HR staff goes through hours of training every year and I am involved with the EEOC and so with that I get additional training. I try to stay networked with the EEOC because twice a year they have classes that employers would go to so that we understand any changes of things coming up…”
From a manager of a multi-state company

“When J. actually resigned at one point, I guess I tried to express as sternly as I could that “you can work where you want, we’re not going to force you to stay but if it’s because of an accommodation, give us a chance” and I just said it with passion, “give us a chance” because our investment, I’ll be very frank, our investment in J. was great to get him certified. It’s about three months of employment plus we sent him away for testing for a week, so you’ve got all those costs and then he’s excellent at it and the people we serve need that excellence.”
From an executive director of a non-profit organization

Case study

Mr. West works as a director of the Human Resources Department of a multinational insurance company, which has a centralized and formal process related to reasonable accommodation (RA) and ADA observance. Mr. West mentions that his company is proactive in reaching out to all employees who may need workplace accommodations. This ensures that the company understands the needs of employees, and helps them to address their needs from the very beginning. The company believes that workplace accommodations benefit all employees, not only employees with disabilities. Relevant departments (such as legal, HR, and managers) work together to help employees address their work needs and consider the impact of accommodations in the workplace while maintaining confidentiality. The company has several channels available for requesting and addressing accommodations, including face-to-face communication, online, and written requests. In addition, RA-related information and procedures are available on the company’s website. Managers can use their own discretion to purchase requested RA items costing less than $500. The company also has a monitoring and tracking system to examine if accommodations are implemented in a timely manner and if the accommodations facilitate the employees’ performance and meet their needs. All these serve to boost trust and communication in the workplace.

In addition to the formal RA process, managers also have the option to provide accommodations through an informal process. The company holds that “RA is a win-win approach”: it serves to meet the needs of employees with disabilities by providing them with equal opportunity in employment, while maintaining the company’s productivity and efficiency. In certain situations where an employee with disabilities does not meet the performance standards of his/her job duties with existing accommodations, the company may suggest further supports (such as job coaches) to assist the employee to enhance his/her work performance.