September 23, 2002
Create an ADA Accommodation Database
nt size="2">By LINDA TRAINOR
Contributing Editor, Best Practices in HR
If you work for a very small company where everyone knows everything about
everyone else, you probably know about any real or potential conditions that
might qualify a co-worker for protection under the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA). Perhaps it's more likely that you don't know enough about
the ever-changing ADA disability definitions or employee health conditions that
might make them eligible for ADA-related considerations.
Perhaps you haven't had to deal with ADA issues at all lately. But regardless
of your organization's size, since the Supreme Court has ruled on several
ADA cases this year, you may want to reconsider your organization's potential
liabilities and investigate ways to keep ADA-related compliance on the right
Basic reminders. The ADA is almost 10 years old, yet complying with
the Act seems to be a moving target for most employers. That's because
ADA lawsuits are increasingly creative, and courts add complexity by rendering
Legal experts say that they expect ADA litigation to increase as individuals
and their attorneys try to broaden the scope of what constitutes a disability
and/or a violation under the Act. The willingness of the Supreme Court to review
so many ADA cases this year suggests that experts are correct, and the law is
important to employees and employers alike.
There are a number of ways to reduce your organization's potential ADA
liabilities. Here are just a few ideas you can use.
Be prepared. You never know if or when an employee may be protected
under the ADA. For example, an employee doesn't have to say, "I'm
disabled" or "I need reasonable accommodation to help me do my job."
Federal and state laws impose important burdens on employers to be observant
and conscientious about things such as working environment, performance evaluations
in light of the individual's ability to perform job functions, appropriate
Furthermore, you must be prepared to conduct interactive discussions with a
disabled employee with respect to determining appropriate accommodations such
as special equipment, flexible work hours, a different position, etc. And if
one accommodation approach doesn't work, be ready to try again and again.
Fulfill your obligations. Being prepared also means you need to be aware
of your responsibilities as determined under federal and state laws, as well
as keep abreast of court decisions that could influence how the laws are interpreted
going forward. You also need policies and procedures in place, and managers
and supervisors should be carefully trained and updated with respect to their
Thorough documentation relating to even the smallest potential disability issue
can help ensure that you can defend your actions in case an employee files a
complaint against you.
Keeping track of real and perceived employee disabilities and how disability
accommodation issues are handled can be an onerous task ? even for small
organizations with only one location. Employers with multiple locations and/or
a large or rapidly growing workforce face a bigger challenge because there are
more supervisory individuals involved who may or may not be aware of relevant
issues affecting their work unit and the company overall. Since your responsibilities
under the ADA and state or local laws are constantly changing, how do you manage
and document every situation? Leverage technology.
Use an ADA database to manage and document. Consider using an ADA database
to manage your potential liabilities and disability documentation process. Employers
are finding that creating a database can simplify their disability-related management,
documentation, and compliance tasks.
Don't let the term "database" scare you. If your organization
is relatively small, your "database" might consist of
a few word processing and/or spreadsheet files.
Larger employers or those with multiple locations might want to look for help
from outside consultants and software vendors. In either case, here are a few
tips to help you get started:
- Be sure that everyone who has a part in accommodating a given employee has
access to the database files pertaining to that particular case. However,
be sure it's protected against unauthorized access by other employees
or managers not directly involved.
- Keep a current list of all vacant positions along with complete and accurate
job descriptions to help ensure that a disabled individual is qualified if
accommodation leads to assigning the individual a different position.
- Ask the employee to complete an accommodation questionnaire as a way to
document skills, qualifications, types of jobs, compensation, hours, etc.,
the employee would find acceptable. Enter this information in the database
and update it as necessary.
- Open a new file each time an employee requests an accommodation to help
you monitor the facts and actions surrounding each instance, including information
about work limitations, medical releases, etc.
Regardless of how you do it, experts say that maintaining a database will
go a long way in convincing courts and juries that you have tried to act in
good faith with respect to accommodating a disabled employee.