reasonable accommodation

Carnival of HR: How HR is Making the Workplace Better for Employees


By Stephanie Hammerwold

HR has not always had the best reputation. Whether it is publications like the Harvard Business Review talking about why it is time to blow up HR or managers that call us terminators or policy police, we are often branded as being out of touch or too consumed with unnecessary rules. Despite this bad reputation, there are many of us in HR who toil away behind the scenes, trying to make workplaces better for employees. We fight for better benefits, work to end harassment and discrimination and advocate for employees who need a second chance, and I have met and worked with many HR colleagues that are doing quite a bit to change workplaces for the better.

As the HR Hammer, I am committed to helping employers make workplaces better for employees. Doing so creates a happy, productive and loyal team. So, I put the question out there to bloggers for this carnival: How is HR making the workplace better for employees?

Over at Blogging4Jobs, Jessica Miller-Merrell shares an episode of her Workology Podcast where she interviews David Sturt, author of Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love and Executive Vice President at O.C. Tanner. Miller-Merrell and Sturt discuss employee engagement. What I like most about their conversation is how Sturt offers an easy way to drive engagement: recognize employees. In HR and management, we can get really focused on policy and paperwork, and sometimes we forget the value of saying “thank you” or commending someone on a job well done on a big project. As Miller-Merrell and Sturt point out, recognition is an often overlooked engagement tool that costs little to nothing. Next time you are at work, take some time to say thanks to your employees.

At HRmoz, David Richter of Octopus HR Software offers up some advice on how HR and product/market fit can make workplaces better for employees. Richter gives some good examples of how a strong product/market fit can increase productivity and reduce turnover. Company success would also lead to more money for well-being programs and bonuses. He says that one of the most important areas HR can help achieve this is through creating a culture where the employees have voice. This includes seeking employee feedback and letting employees propose and try out new ideas.

Parental leave has been getting quite a bit of attention in the media lately, and we regularly hear how the U.S. lags behind many other countries in providing paid leave options. At Blogging4Jobs, Eric Magnussen writes about how employers can best support employees who are about to add a new child to their families. Magnussen goes beyond the basic requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and provides suggestions that include making a checklist for new parents that includes leave requirements as well as information on the lactation room, contact numbers for counselors and support services for new parents, insurance information and other available resources. Magnussen also says employers can help by being flexible and including fathers in leave and offering work-from-home options. These are all great ways employers can recognize the challenge of balancing work and raising a family, something which ultimately supports creating a workplace that meets the needs of our employees. 

Finally, Stuart Rudner and Brittany Taylor of Rudner MacDonald LLP discuss a topic of increasing relevance: medical marijuana in the workplace. There have been many changes regarding legal use of marijuana, and it is important that employers are ready to address how these changes affect the workplace if they are going to support how their employees live. Rudner and Taylor talk about the Canadian laws regarding medical marijuana and give advice that is relevant to many of the legal changes we are also seeing here in the U.S. They point out that the use of medical marijuana should be treated in the same way as an employee on any other doctor-prescribed medication. Rudner and Taylor remind employers that it is important to have procedures in place for handling requests for reasonable accommodation and to follow those when an employee makes such a request that includes the use of medical marijuana. They also write that this is a good time to review your company’s drug and alcohol policy to ensure that it address changes to the legal use of marijuana.

That’s it for this week’s Carnival of HR. Now get to work improving things for your employees, and be the superhero of your workplace! Follow the HR Hammer for more tips on creating good places to work.

Disability Accommodations in the Workplace


By Stephanie Hammerwold

According to the 2010 census, 19% of adults in the U.S. have a disability. This means that most employers will at some point deal with a request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Not only is providing a reasonable accommodation the right thing to do, it is also the law. Disabled workers have the potential to be just as productive and valuable as the rest of the workforce, so it is important that employers have a plan in place to help these employees have the tools they need to succeed and do their jobs.

What is a Disability?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says someone may be disabled “if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing or learning).” The EEOC further adds that someone may be disabled if they have a history of a disability or if they are believed to have a disability that is not minor or transitory.

Employers may not discriminate against someone on the basis of disability. This includes both employees and job applicants. Employers have an obligation to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace unless doing so would cause undue hardship.

Reasonable Accommodation & the Interactive Process

According to the EEOC, “A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.” While employers may fear that they will have to make difficult or expensive changes to accommodate disabled workers, the reality is that many accommodations are easy fixes.

When an employee approaches you with a request for accommodation, begin the interactive process. This involves working with the employee to figure out how to meet their needs. Provide forms that an employee can complete with their doctor that detail their specific request. View the interactive process as a conversation, so if the first request the employee makes is not something you can easily accommodate, make alternate suggestions until you land upon something that will work. Remember that not every disability is the same, so even if, for example, you have two employees requesting accommodation for depression, their needs may be different.

The Job Accommodation Network is a service provided by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). JAN’s site gives employers tips and information on various disabilities and possible accommodations. They provide a number of examples of easy accommodations. Take for example an employee who struggles with getting to work on time due to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). An easy accommodation would be to give the employee a flexible start time.

Training Managers & Getting Extra Help

Train your managers on how to handle accommodation requests. Many local social service agencies who help disabled people can offer resources to use in training and may even be able to send someone to speak to your managers about disability in the workplace. Training will give your managers a chance to ask questions to understand that the accommodation process is not necessarily difficult.

While many accommodation requests are easy, you may sometimes run across one that presents challenges. JAN offers a number that employers can call for assistance, and you may also want to consider contacting an employment attorney for guidance if you are struggling with meeting an employee’s request.