When reasonable accommodations lead to unreasonable behavior
An employee in my department has a verified reasonable accommodation which allows for a reduced case load and more time to do documentation. The employee does good work. But, whenever I present something new to the team, the employee reminds everyone about the accommodation. When I say that there are new admissions to the program, the employee says, but remember I have a reduced case load. When I say that people are taking vacation and others have to cover their cases, the employee says, but then I might need even more overtime to do documentation. I get that the employee is anxious, but the comments bother the other team members, They are resentful, and they tell me! Suggestions?
The landmark Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by President George HW Bush. It prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in several areas including employment.
A key element of the law is the concept of reasonable accommodation, “a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process.” Importantly, ‘accommodations … must not create an “undue hardship” for the employer, in other words, cause too much difficulty or expense to implement.’ https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/disability/ada)
You, your employee and your employer presumably know these things. But they are worth repeating because the essence of a reasonable accommodation can sometimes get lost amid the pressure of business operations.
This situation has both an individual and a team aspect. Your interventions should address both.
Set guidelines about individual comments in meetings: The ADA was designed to allow those with disabilities to join the workforce and not be isolated in separate work environments. Yet, this employee’s behavior is causing isolation in other ways by making team members resentful.
Review the accommodation with this employee so they are assured that you understand it. Then set limits on comments in team meetings. The employee should be told, privately, that issues related to accommodations will be discussed individually, not in group meetings.
Suggest that the employee get additional help: You do not say if this employee’s problem behavior is something new or long-standing, whether it is related to the need for reasonable accommodation or not. In any case, you can express your concern and confusion to the employee. The employee is asking repeated questions when the details of the reasonable accommodation have been well-established and accepted. You wonder if there are other stressors in play. Ask if the employee is getting help to manage their problem or refer them to your HR department or employee assistance program.
If the employee gets defensive, you can say that you are simply commenting on behavior that you see. You are not making judgements. As a manager you are responsible for observing your team and giving them feedback, which is what you are doing here.
Diversity education for the team: You could do some team training about the ADA or about persons with disabilities. But if you do that in the current context, the employee may feel singled out, and it may feed even more bad feelings.
Instead, create an opportunity for a general team conversation about diversity and inclusion. In the course of the conversation, you can talk about how people create connections with each other across their differences.
Consider team bonding activities: Many employers and programs are suffering with high vacancy rates. As a result, workers are feeling especially burdened. Add to this the still-not-ended pandemic stress, and everyone’s tolerance is thin. Your team may be more tolerant of this employee’s behavior if problem interactions are balanced with positive interactions.
Create occasions for shared positive experiences among the team, celebrating accomplishments or recognizing specific team members. Don’t feel responsible to come up with all the ideas yourself. Invite team members to recognize each other.
Get validation for your role: As a manager, your job is to assure that program operations continue and do so in accord with certain standards. Your managerial charge requires you to balance the needs of the persons being served with the needs of the employees providing the services. Your decisions are designed to achieve this continually changing balance. Sometimes in an emotional situation you can lose sight of your responsibilities and start to question yourself. If so, seek out colleagues and supervisors who can validate your course of action and support you.
If you would like to have a consultation or training related to disability inclusion or employee interactions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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