Returning to the Office Plans + Reasonable Accommodations
With vaccination programs beginning, plans to reestablish public facing services and eventually to reopen offices are put in place. Managers should ensure that reasonable employee-approved accommodations are in place, including those approved during your pandemic plan. Managers should verify that approved equipment has been ordered and is in place before an employee returns to the office. Many accommodations were approved months ago and even with supply chain issues should have been procured. However, if some equipment has not been received, acting now will ensure the equipment is available prior to the employee’s return to work. This is important to ensure the employee can perform their essential functions. In addition, businesses have a legal obligation to provide accommodations in a timely manner. For instance, if an accommodation was approved in June 2020 and the equipment is not available when the employee returns to work, you have not met that obligation under the law. Some businesses may have provided an accommodation for an employee’s home office, but it is not present in the business office.
Returning to Safe Workspaces
Managers should inspect employee’s work areas and ensure that all accommodation equipment is present. If an area is shared by multiple employees throughout the week for their “day in the office” an evaluation should be done to ensure it will still support the number of employees with accommodations. For instance, check to ensure scooters are charged and ready and that HEPA filters, heaters and electric sit-to-stand desks still operate. Ensure any assistive technology still functions. Some equipment with batteries may not have had the batteries removed and may have corroded. Verify that your parking area has enough handicapped or reserved spaces for employees with limitations.
Also, when planning for any future in-person training, provide as much lead time as possible for interpreters, close captioning or other accessibility needs. As employees return to work across the country, demand may increase. Scheduling these services could require more flexibility if not requested early. The items above are only a partial list of things to consider, and your local accommodation coordinator or HR can help identify any unique situations at your office.
If you need information or assistance concerning reasonable accommodations, a great resource is the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace. JAN is funded by a contract from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) (#1605DC-17-C-0038).
Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.
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Timothy Perkins is of Cherokee and Natchez tribal descent. Perkins has served in logistics, equal opportunity employment and education services. He serves as commissioner on the Governor's Iowa Commission on Native American Affairs and the Iowa Mental Health and Disability Services Commission, as well as on the Greater Des Moines Partnership's Diversity and Inclusion Committee, among others, and has more than 30 years of service within the military.