What is a job accommodation? It is an adjustment or modification made to the disabled employee's job to allow them to perform the duties of their job, just as you would provide the appropriate tools to all employees to perform their jobs.
Accommodations might include some of the following:
Research has repeatedly shown that the average cost of a job accommodation is $200, with 20 percent of all job accommodations costing nothing! Also, for every dollar an employer spends for a disability-related job accommodation, the company saves $34 (via insurance savings, training of new employees and increased productivity).
In all aspects, it makes good sense to accommodate!
You need to start out with a very specific and detailed analysis of your employee's existing job. Many employers have developed these and update them on a regular basis as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The more specific the information contained in the job analysis, including job skills required, frequency of performing various functions, and outcomes expected, the easier it will be for you and your supervisor to match up an employee's abilities and restrictions.
If you do not have such a detailed job description, you can use a Physical Demand Analysis to develop one. An employee needs to provide you with a very specific list of their restrictions from their doctor so that you will have a starting point. You are not asking for any type of confidential, diagnostic or medical information - just their functional abilities and restrictions.
If the employee is unable to provide you with such detailed feedback via a release from their doctor, you can give them a Capabilities and Limitations Worksheet to have completed by their attending physician. Much of job accommodation is fitting the pieces of the puzzle together but you need those exact pieces to make the precise fit!
If you get doctor feedback such as "light typing," you need to push back. This is not specific and the doctor needs to provide you with very specific detail such as "no continuous typing for more than five minutes, three times per hour." This is the type of situation where it is very valuable to have the intervention of a case manager or a return to work coordinator so that the supervisor is not seen as too demanding or negative.
How long will the restrictions be in place? Are they permanent or temporary? If temporary, how long? This will provide you as the employer with a much greater sense of confidence in your managing an accommodated return to work.
Remember that this discussion can make the employee uncomfortable, because he or she may not know the answers and may feel that you are resisting their return to work.
It is important to remind the employee that this is a shared venture between the employee, you, the employer and/or case manager, and the doctor - that you are all trying to put the right pieces of the puzzle together to accomplish a successful and long term return to employment.
There are no instant solutions or magic answers. A return to work program can be a new and strange experience to you the employer as well as the disabled employee. Partnering, communicating and collaborating with your employee are the keys to the success of any job accommodation. Let employees know that you are open to suggestions and mean it!
Your first option for locating help is to contact your benefit manager to locate rehabilitation programs and case management programs offered by your insurance plans. They should be able to help you deal with questions related to functionality, doctor relationships and return to work. Aetna has a highly qualified vocational rehabilitation staff that can offer return to work services for qualified disability benefit recipients.
Depending upon the state jurisdiction, most workers' compensation carriers are required to offer return to work assistance via a variety of programs privately as well as through the state. Check with your carrier to see what they can help you with.
There are also many community-based agencies that can provide you with great resources as well as direction. A good place to start is your local office of your State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. This is a federally funded program located in all states and major municipalities that provides a wide range of services to assist individuals with disabilities to return to their highest level of employment possible.
One of the best programs providing advice and direction in making job accommodations is a service offered by the federal government: the Job Accommodation Network, or JAN. JAN has a massive database of accommodations, and offers free professional aid. It is a free resource sponsored by the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. JAN will answer any questions about accommodations and provide technical assistance on interpretation of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). JAN's trained consultants will also direct you to additional disability related resources, if needed.
Many other disability-related organizations offer similar resources, including education, and are often funding sources for adaptive equipment and assistance with case management. And most community-based programs are eager to establish positive working relationships with employers so that they can possibly refer qualified employment candidates to you in the future.