HR Administration

Workplace Accommodations Don’t Have to be Complicated to be Effective

By Tom Foran

Nov. 27, 2017

When employers hear the word “accommodations” they might respond in several ways.

Some immediately see dollar signs, thinking accommodating an employee’s health condition may require a high price tag for multiple pieces of adaptive equipment. Others may think providing accommodations are too complicated and would rather wait until an employee is 100 percent healthy before having them return to work. And, there may be others who are apprehensive about finding and sourcing accommodations, as they don’t know where to begin.

employee accommodations
Employees who received reasonable accommodations for their health conditions returned to work sooner, according to a recent survey.

However, these perceptions are inaccurate and can be potentially harmful for an organization’s overall productivity. An absent employee often can result in reduced output and additional burden on other employees who may have to work overtime or take on additional responsibilities. This can lead to employee turnover or additional staffing issues.

In addition to productivity concerns, there also are serious legal and compliance issues that could ensue from failing to accommodate an employee. Fines or legal action under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act could result if an employer neglects to provide an employee with reasonable accommodations that can help the employee better perform his or her job.

A recent survey from The Standard found that employees who received reasonable accommodations for their health conditions returned to work sooner, felt better about their employers and were more effective at their jobs. Ninety-three percent of employees surveyed said they could perform their job more effectively after receiving an accommodation.

As an employer, you can work with your disability carrier to implement a disability management strategy that helps create a supportive environment and allows employees to receive the accommodations and assistance they need to succeed in the workplace. Here are a few insights on how your organization could benefit from this type of partnership.

One issue that can drive an employee’s poor performance is a health condition. While a direct supervisor may see an employee’s performance declining, he or she may not equate it to a health issue.

An employee may be fearful of proactively bringing attention to their condition at work. The Standard’s survey found that 53 percent of employees were too scared to bring up their health condition with a supervisor, while 49 percent felt they were treated differently after speaking with their supervisor.

This disconnect could translate into a less productive or absent employee. Working with a disability carrier and implementing a comprehensive disability management program can help address these concerns and create a supportive environment that helps employees get the accommodations needed to stay at work or return to work. A disability carrier can help implement a process for identifying an employee who needs assistance and helping to train direct supervisors on what to do if an employee does need assistance.

Implementing the Right Type of Accommodations

The most important thing to consider when implementing an employee’s accommodation is that it should be tailored to each employee and his or her unique situation. No two employees or conditions are the same. For many employers, this can sound daunting, but they don’t need to manage it alone.

Some disability carriers have consultants who can work alongside an employer to coordinate an employee’s stay-at-work or return-to-work accommodations. This approach is more common than you may think, as 77 percent of employees were helped by their employer’s disability carrier, according to the survey.

Disability consultants can connect with the employee’s medical team to discuss restrictions or limitations, collaborate with you on a return-to-work plan and determine potential accommodation ideas. Disability consultants can rely on their own expertise, including years of helping other employers with reasonable accommodations under the ADAAA.

This approach can have big results. Employees who took a disability leave and received accommodations required a shorter disability leave by almost 30 days than those who didn’t receive support, according to the survey. Consider how your organization could benefit from an employee who is back to work almost one month sooner.

Finding Straightforward Solutions

Sometimes, simple adjustments are exactly what an employee needs to help boost his or her productivity and help mitigate their illness or injury. Accommodations don’t have to be elaborate to be helpful for an employee working through a health condition. Of the accommodations provided to help support employees’ health conditions or disabilities at work, many were simple adjustments, according to The Standard’s survey:

  • 61 percent said they were provided with flexibility to attend doctors’ appointments.
  • 58 percent were provided with schedule modifications.
  • 40 percent noted they received workstation modifications.

Overall, these accommodations and support can help increase employee productivity. Forty-two percent of employees surveyed felt they could perform their job extremely effectively after receiving support from their employer, while 50 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that they felt more productive after receiving accommodations.

Accommodations are an effective way to help an employee with a health condition either stay at work and avoid a disability leave or return to work sooner after requiring a disability leave. Working with a disability carrier can not only provide you and your employee with the right support, but help boost your culture and productivity overall.

Tom Foran is the vice president of underwriting and product development at The Standard. Comment below or email

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