If you work in the Human Resources field you almost certainly understand the basic obligations employers must deal with under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Most often the issue you face involves analysis of the essential functions of an employee’s job and consideration of reasonable accommodations to permit the employee to perform those functions. The next time you undertake this analysis you may find it helpful to review a now long-standing guidance that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) makes available on its website (https://www.eeoc.gov/). “The Americans with Disabilities Act: Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities” contains useful information set out in a Q+A format and you should give it a look before your next ADA reasonable accommodation situation arises.
While this guidance fully supports the need to look for reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities it also makes clear a few important principles you should never lose sight of, starting with the very first Q+A:
- May an employer apply the same quantitative and qualitative requirements for performance of essential functions to an employee with a disability that it applies to employees without disabilities?
Yes. An employee with a disability must meet the same production standards, whether quantitative or qualitative, as a non-disabled employee in the same job. Lowering or changing a production standard because an employee cannot meet it due to a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation. However, a reasonable accommodation may be required to assist an employee in meeting a specific production standard.
That’s right, an employer does not have to change standards of production, or performance, for a disabled employee. While you should analyze whether or not a reasonable accommodation may be required for the employee to meet your standards, you never have to lower them.
The Q+A proceeds and covers such topics as: applying the same evaluation criteria for employees with disabilities as for employees who are not disabled; allowing alternative methods of performing a job as a reasonable accommodation, unless the alternative method would impose an undue hardship; and, maintaining an employee’s low performance rating if the employee responds to the rating by revealing a disability that is causing the performance problem.
The guidance goes on in a similar way to address conduct and behavior standards, establishing additional principles that are useful for employers such as: an employer may discipline an employee for violating a conduct standard even if the employee’s disability causes the violation, so long as the rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity.
There is much more useful information in this EEOC guidance than a short blog post can provide, and you should find some time to give it a read!