When a faculty or staff member request an accommodation, what are your responsibilities as a supervisor? Let’s start with the basics.
Learn more about background information on the ADA.
What is an Accommodation?
Under the ADA and other laws, the university will provide reasonable accommodation to employees with known disabilities, if that is needed to enable them to perform their essential job duties.
An accommodation is any modification to a job, the workplace, or other employment elements (e.g., work tools, benefits, etc.) that enables faculty and staff to have equal access to the benefits of employment at the university. Here are some examples of potential accommodations:
This list is by no means exhaustive. Moreover, this list does not mean that such accommodations must be provided if requested. Instead, the university is encouraged to work with faculty and staff to explore potential accommodations together, including figuring out what accommodations might be effective and determining whether the requested accommodations are reasonable in the specific context of the faculty or staff member’s job and unit.
- Providing equipment to perform certain tasks;
- Modifying an employee’s workstation or work location;
- Providing adaptive technology to allow access to digital information;
- Modifying supervisory style or communication methods;
- Granting leave; or
- Allowing for a flexible work schedule.
Requesting an Accommodation
When faculty or staff members request an accommodation, the university must engage in the interactive process with the faculty or staff member in response. This process is a collaborative effort between the employee and their supervisor, manager, or HR representative to determine what reasonable accommodations will be provided. This process can be ongoing and will be tailored to the individual faculty or staff member’s request for accommodation.
Faculty and staff who requiring reasonable accommodations for a disability are responsible for requesting such accommodations. They need not use any specific language or submit the request in writing so long as they provide sufficient information to put the university on notice that an accommodation is being requested. Faculty and staff may use the Request for Accommodation Form included on this website, but this is not necessary to initiate the interactive process.
Clarifying Barriers and Medical Support
Upon receiving a request for accommodations, the university will promptly engage in the interactive process with the faculty or staff member. One of the primary steps in this process is communicating with the faculty or staff member in order to understand any barriers the faculty or staff member may be experiencing (i.e., issues with the work environment, how the work is done, or specific tasks that are expected of the individual), as well as identifying potential accommodations or accommodation alternatives that may be effective to address the barriers described.
Faculty and staff also expected to engage in the interactive process, including suggesting potential accommodations (although the faculty or staff member is not required to identify the exact accommodation needed), identifying disability-related barriers, and providing clarifying information when necessary.
In addition to discussing any barriers or accommodation suggestions, faculty and staff may be asked to provide medical documentation that provides sufficient support for: (1) the disability, (2) any restrictions the employee may have as a result of the disability, and (3) any accommodation suggestions the healthcare provider may have. Faculty and staff may use the Request for Medical Support Form included on this website or they may ask their healthcare provider for a signed note instead.
If a faculty or staff member’s medical condition or need for accommodations is readily observable, then they do not need to provide medical documentation.
If an individual is asked to provide medical documentation, this documentation can be provided directly to a supervisor, manager, or HR representative. Any medical documentation received will be kept in a locked file and in a file that is separate from the individual’s personnel records.
In addition, if faculty or staff members on leave for more than ten days, then they will be eligible to open a claim with Work Connections. Work Connections provides assistance through the individual’s recovery and helps facilitate their return to work. Through this process, Work Connections can collect the faculty or staff member’s medical documentation and will communicate only what the supervisor, manager, or HR representative needs to know in order for the employer to begin the interactive process and work with the employee to discuss possible accommodations.
Determining What Accommodations Might be Available
Once there has been a request for an accommodation, and documentation (if needed) has been obtained, the university should discuss possible accommodation options with the faculty or staff member, including understanding the faculty or staff member’s preferred accommodations. The department, in consultation with other university resources such as HR and the ADA Coordinator, has the final decision regarding which accommodation is provided.
During the interactive process, there are various resources available to help assess what accommodations might be effective for a faculty or staff member. In general, the accommodation must be tailored to address the nature of the disability and the needs of the individual within the context of the requirements of the job.
Sometimes, faculty and staff are able to suggest accommodations that may be effective. Other times, an individual’s healthcare provider can offer suggestions. The university also has resources that are available to assess and suggest potential accommodations, including MHealthy Medical Ergonomics and Occupational Therapy Services.
In addition, part of the interactive process can include the supervisor, manager, or HR representative working with the faculty or staff member to brainstorm possible accommodation ideas. Even if the faculty or staff member has a preferred accommodation, the university is still allowed to discuss and propose alternative accommodations. Alternatives may be offered instead of the faculty or staff member’s requested or preferred accommodation so long as the alternative accommodation is effective.
Determining What Accommodations Should be Provided
As mentioned above, the university is responsible for providing reasonable accommodations. If an accommodation is considered unreasonable, the accommodation will not be provided and an alternative may be considered.
Part of the interactive process includes assessing whether a particular requested or suggested accommodation is reasonable under the ADA. This assessment is done on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration all relevant information. Determining the reasonableness of an accommodation is fact-specific and will take into account the impact the accommodation will have on the unit and other factors.
If it is determined that an accommodation is not reasonable, then the university may deny the request for a specific accommodation. Prior to denying an accommodation request, supervisors and managers are encouraged to contact and consult with their HR representatives, email the ADA Coordinator or call (734) 763-0235, or their appropriate campus contact (Dearborn — email Pamela Heatlie or call (313) 436-9194; Flint — email Suzi Bye or call (810) 766-6658.
Also, in the event that a specific accommodation request is denied, supervisors and managers are encouraged to continue working with the faculty or staff member to identify any potential alternative reasonable accommodations.
The following are situations when an accommodation may be considered unreasonable and would not need to be provided:
Unreasonable Accommodations — Undue Hardship
If an accommodation would pose an “undue hardship” on the university, then it need not be provided. Undue hardship means that an accommodation would be unduly costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the department or unit. Among the factors to be considered in determining whether an accommodation would pose an undue hardship are the cost of the accommodation; the unit’s overall size, type, and location; the number of employees in the unit; any impact the accommodation will have on other employees or customers; and the nature and structure of the unit’s operation. If a particular accommodation would pose an undue hardship, the university should try to identify another accommodation.
At the university, cost of an accommodation alone is typically not grounds to conclude that the requested accommodation poses an undue hardship and lack of funding is typically not sufficient to justify denying a requested accommodation.
Supervisors and managers are responsible for consulting within their particular department or unit to identify and request any necessary funding to obtain or implement a reasonable accommodation. When sources of funding are not readily identifiable, the department or unit is encouraged to consult with higher management to identify available funds.
Accordingly, supervisors and managers should consider preemptively identifying and documenting potential funding sources that may be used toward covering accommodation costs. This may be done by each department or unit promptly, proactively, and before receiving accommodation requests from faculty or staff in order to avoid any delay in subsequent interactive processes.
Furthermore, while cost is typically not enough for an accommodation to be an undue hardship, the University is allowed to provide less costly alternative accommodations so long as the alternatives are effective.
Unreasonable Accommodations – Modifying or Waiving Essential Functions of a Job
Under the ADA, it is typically not considered a reasonable accommodation for the university to modify, waive, or transfer essential functions of an employee’s job. As mentioned above, essential functions are those duties that are critical to the position, such that removing one of those functions would result in a fundamental alteration to the job. For example, it may be considered an essential function of a bus driver’s position to safely and effectively operate a bus to transport customers.
Marginal functions, on the other hand, are not as critical to the job. Unlike essential functions, it may be considered a reasonable accommodation to modify, waive, or transfer marginal functions.
Unreasonable Accommodations – Direct Threat to Health and Safety
The University may refuse to provide an accommodation or return a faculty or staff member to their position if doing so poses a direct threat to the health or safety of the individual or others and there is no reasonable accommodation that would reduce the risk of harm.
In making this kind of determination, supervisors, managers, and HR representatives should look at: (1) the duration of the risk; (2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; (3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and (4) the imminence of the potential harm.
Supervisors and managers should not simply assume that a threat exists or base their determination on generalizations or stereotypes. Rather, these individualized, case-specific decisions must be made based on reliable medical or other objective evidence.
Offering an Accommodation
Upon determining what reasonable accommodations will be provided, the University will offer them to the faculty or staff member and provide any information regarding how the implementation will be done.
Faculty and staff are not required to accept an accommodation, aid, service, opportunity or benefit; however, if a faculty or staff member rejects a reasonable accommodation that is necessary to enable them to perform the essential functions of the position and no longer can, the faculty or staff member may be subject to appropriate responsive action to address any performance concerns.
Once an accommodation has been provided, it is important to check in with the faculty or staff member to see how the accommodation is working for them. The faculty or staff member should be encouraged to let the university know if there are any problems with the accommodation. If there was a change in performance, attendance or behavior initially, supervisors and managers should check in to see if these have improved with the provision of the accommodation.
Sometimes the effects of a disability change, there are new limitations as a result of the disability, or the accommodation is just not as effective as anticipated. In these cases, the interactive process needs to be re-engaged to determine if there is an effective reasonable accommodation to address the faculty or staff member’s current concerns.
Documenting the Interactive Process
Upon receiving a request for accommodations, the supervisor, manager, or HR representative is responsible for documenting the interactive process, including all relevant information about the process and what accommodations were ultimately provided or denied.
In order to assist with this effort, supervisors, managers, and HR representatives may use the ADA Interactive Process Memorandum Worksheet. This form will help with documenting the date of request, meeting date(s) between employee and supervisor, employee barriers/restrictions attributed to the disability, consultation with other campus resources, whether/what source of funding was used, and actions taken by the department (including whether/what accommodations were provided, whether/what accommodations were denied, etc.).
Upon completion of the interactive process concerning a particular request for accommodation, the completed Worksheet and accompanying memorandum should be kept in a locked file that is separate from the employee’s personnel files.