How to Draft and Enforce a Disability Employment Policy

Creating a disability employment policy is the 1st step toward creating an accessible workplace for your disabled talent. Use this guide to help create your policy.

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How to Draft and Enforce a Disability Employment Policy

Here's what you need to know:

  • For workplace success, employers need to set aside resources and create policies to support all of their workers
  • A disability employment policy is an internal document that standardizes how your business complies with ADA regulations
  • Successful disability policies highlight which resources to use, points of contact for assistance, and how discrimination will be handled
  • A copy of your disability policy should be added to your employee handbook to ensure that all employees can access disability-supporting procedures and resources

The 21st-Century workforce is a diverse talent pool. And for workplace success, employers need to set aside resources and create policies to support all of their workers. Disability inclusion is an essential part of this process.

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, more and more companies have tried to create a more inclusive workplace. Current technological progress makes it easier than ever to accommodate disabled talent. But the truth is that policies are the cornerstone of an equal and accepting workplace.

A disability employment policy can provide a sound framework for recruiting, assisting, and retaining talent. And more disabled workers are looking for employment opportunities.

Between 2020 and 2021, an increase of 600,000 job seekers with at least 1 disability entered the market. And the amount of disabled individuals joining the workforce is likely to increase.

But what is a disability employment policy, and what does it involve? Here are some basics to get you started:

What is a disability employment policy?

A disability employment policy is an internal document that standardizes how your business complies with ADA regulations. You don’t want your hiring managers or HR employees guessing at the best way to accommodate disabilities in the workplace.

Successful disability policies highlight which resources to use, points of contact for assistance, and how discrimination will be handled.

A copy of your disability policy should be added to your employee handbook. This will ensure that all employees can access disability-supporting procedures and resources.

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What are the benefits of creating a disability policy?

There are several reasons to draft and implement a disability policy. When you closely consider the best way to implement ADA accommodations, you can:

  • Create a more inclusive workplace
  • Attract and retain new talent
  • Reduce the likelihood of disability-related claims
  • Better serve customers
  • Save costs on inefficient, last-minute accommodations

What to include in your disability employment policy

The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) works to support businesses in creating disability-inclusive workplaces. They offer help for businesses looking to structure their operations in a way that supports employees and customers with disabilities. Their policies and assistance are also largely based on ADA regulations.

The key areas they focus on are a great boilerplate for your employment policy:

1. Accommodations

There are many different types of disabilities. Some can be seen, such as needing a wheelchair or hearing aids. However, many chronic illnesses are invisible, and these often get neglected.

Both easily recognizable and subtle disabilities should be accommodated. Individuals with mental illness are also not easy to distinguish and may require a different set of resources.

In the office, you’ll likely need to make accommodations for the following:

  • Technology

This can be as simple as ensuring your company portal is accessible, such as having a screen reader or videophones for deaf employees. Technical assistance is essential for disability inclusion and may benefit your abled workers.

  • Communications

In this case, you want to be sure that every employee can read and understand your internal materials. Some options here are to provide braille versions of documents, use large print, add closed captioning to meetings, provide transcripts, or add a sign language interpreter.

  • Workplace enhancements

The workplace should be easily accessible as well. Offices entryways should include ramps, restrooms should have space, and assistance facilities. In some cases, the work environment may need to be significantly modified.

Other related disability enhancements can be fairly straightforward. For example, you may want to allow service animals in the office. You may also choose to adopt a flexible scheduling option so chronically ill and disabled workers can work around critical appointments.

  • Transportation

If company events require transport, disability assistance and accommodations should be accounted for. In some cases, disabled employees may need conveyance assistance, or they may prefer to work from home to circumvent transportation altogether.

2. Anti-discrimination

It should be clear that your organization does not tolerate discrimination. You may already have a simple statement in your employee handbook that highlights this. A common phrasing is:

“[Company Name] does not unlawfully discriminate internally, such as in its administrative and program operations, or externally, as in the provision of services, based on race, political orientation, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin, ethnicity, ancestry, marital status, veteran status, or mental or physical disability or any other status prohibited by applicable law.”

However, you may want to take this a step further. For example, you may choose to include how employees can report instances of discrimination, the investigation process, and types of penalties.

3. Emergency preparedness

Unexpected emergencies and threats, such as natural disasters, fires, and active shooters all require planning to handle. However, these plans should also account for the disabled.

For example, it’s often said to take the stairwell in case of a fire. But what if you have an employee in a wheelchair or another movement aid? Are there preparations for service animals? Are there visible cues for your deaf employees?

Your notification and evacuation systems should consider the safety and security of all employees.

The ODEP guidelines for federal agencies are a great place to start for updating your emergency preparedness plan.

4. Flexible work arrangements

Another essential component is flexible work opportunities. Transportation can be challenging or close to impossible for some workers. Others may continue to be at risk due to the pandemic.

And even if there are no issues with working in the office, employees with chronic conditions may need to leave during the traditional workday for essential medical appointments.

Providing a flexible work option ensures that your disabled and abled employees can work on a schedule that makes sense. Not only is this less stressful than trying to fit every appointment in during lunch or after work, but it also improves productivity and workplace satisfaction.

Enforcing ADA compliance in the workplace

ADA-related complaints are filed in human resources. And it’s essential to enforce the policies listed in your employee handbook.

Let’s start with accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are defined as:

  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices,
  • job restructuring,
  • part-time or modified work schedules,
  • reassignment to a vacant position,
  • adjusting or modifying examinations,
  • training materials or policies,
  • providing readers and interpreters,
  • making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities.

To accomplish this, you’ll want to have an individual on the HR team who works on employee and customer accommodations, specifically. It can also be helpful to get employee feedback to ensure that the accommodations and the process of obtaining them are hassle-free.

Curating a list of questions for the hiring team ahead of time that focuses on job functions and responsibilities, as opposed to physical or mental ability, can reduce the risk of even unintentional discrimination.

Regarding hiring, it’s important to note that asking employees about their disabilities or requesting a medical examination is illegal.

Curating a list of questions for the hiring team ahead of time that focuses on job functions and responsibilities, as opposed to physical or mental ability, can reduce the risk of even unintentional discrimination.

Finally, in the case of discrimination claims, you’ll want to have a clear way to handle such incidents discreetly. You may also want to provide anti-discrimination training annually to refresh employee memories of what could count as discrimination.

Supporting ADA helps foster DEI at your organization

Diversity and inclusion initiatives help to create a productive workplace, boost employee satisfaction, and even build trust with customers.

But it all starts with effective policy building. And creating a resource for your disabled talent to easily access the accommodations or assistance they need to grow their careers is critical.

For more on navigating and fostering a diverse and inclusive work environment, check out our DEI checklist for HR managers.

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