Welcome to the world of reasonable accommodations!
Are you curious about the accommodations process but uncertain about where to start? As a former corporate accommodation consultant who specializes in reasonable accommodations for neurodiversity & mental health, I constantly heard "I wish I had gotten connected to accommodations way sooner".
It's common to avoid contacting the accommodations team until you feel you have no other choice - you're facing a PIP or have reached a breaking point - and this can put you in a very stressful position.
All of the steps outlined below allow you to ask questions and gather information without putting your employer on notice of your disability status. This gives you the opportunity to determine if accommodations are the right path for you, without any pressure or obligation.
# 1 Find the right person to talk to.
In large companies, there may be a dedicated accommodations team, but smaller companies may have an HR generalist or outsource to a third-party. Speaking to the right person increases the likelihood of a productive conversation, and it also helps ease concerns about sharing sensitive information with the wrong people.
Search the intranet or your employee handbook for keywords like “accommodation” “ADA”, “disability.”
Ask your manager or HR contact directly about how you can learn more about the accommodations process at your company.
If you’re at a very small company, your manager may be the point of contact for handling your accommodation requests. While this can streamline the process, it also means that your manager may be reviewing your accommodation paperwork or may not be familiar with the process. It's important to consider this dynamic when deciding if disclosure is right for you.
LPT: If your manager or HR person hasn’t dealt with accommodations before, they can learn more about it through the Job Accommodation Network’s Practical Guide for Employers and they can even contact JAN for a free consultation instead of hiring an expensive HR consultant.
#2 Ask the important questions.
Once you find the right person, remember that you can ask question about the accommodation process without disclosing anything. Here are some examples of questions you might ask, through email or in a meeting:
Can you give me an overview of the accommodations process and what documentation is required? What does sufficient documentation look like?
Are there any accommodations that can be obtained without documentation? Some companies will automatically approve things like noise-cancelling headphones or ergonomic keyboards.
Can you help me brainstorm accommodation ideas or am I expected to start the process with a specific request in mind?
Will you provide me with accommodation request paperwork that I can give to my doctor?
At what point will my manager be notified that I’m engaging in the accommodations process?
Can you tell me if my specific medical information will be shared with my manager during this process? For example, will my diagnosis be shared? What about the nature of my condition (i.e., if it’s related to a physical condition or behavioral health condition)?
LPT: Ask for clarification or translation of new terms that you don’t understand, which may include legal and medical terminology.
#3 Learn how your private information would be protected.
Ideally, your employer will tell you how they protect your private medical information and confidentiality throughout the process. Here are some best practices:
Once your accommodation request is finalized, your manager will most likely be notified of the accommodation request (because they typically are the ones to approve it and implement it) but they should only know that you have an ADA-qualifying condition and not any more information than necessary. They often don’t need to know the specifics of your medical condition to implement the accommodation.
Co-workers and other employees should not be told about the accommodation. Others may need to be aware of the adjustment, but they often do not need to know that it’s related to an accommodation.
Accommodation information should never be kept in records that other managers (or future managers) would have access to, like performance evaluations.
#4 Talk to your medical provider
Ask your medical provider if they are familiar with the accommodations process and how long it may take for them to complete documentation.
Your medical provider can be your therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, GP, etc.
If they’ve never done an accommodation request before, they can learn more about it through the Job Accommodation Network’s practical guidance for medical professionals.
A diagnosis is typically not required during the accommodations process even when your healthcare provider is completing paperwork. Functional impairments and how they impede ability to perform a specific aspect of your job is more important than actual diagnosis.
Example: “This person has a permanent medical condition that impacts executive functioning such as sustaining concentration, multi-tasking, and rapid task switching”. You can see a sample medical documentation letter here.
LPT: Encourage your provider to be as specific as possible including how long you need the accommodation. A diagnosis like ADHD may be life-long but that does not mean the medical need for accommodation is ongoing or permanent. Employers may respond better to requests that estimate a specific time frame than documentation without a duration. You can always request an extension in the future.
#5 Identify your needs and determine if they require an accommodation.
A lot of accommodations are free and within your control to implement. Think about what an ideal outcome from this accommodations process looks like, such as new software, adjustments to your schedule, employer-paid job coaching.
AskJAN and this article have examples of common accommodation requests. Keep in mind that performance expectations will not be lowered, and you’re expected to perform the core function of the job with or without accommodations.
You may not need an accommodation for written recaps after conversations if you can use note-taking software like Otter.AI.
You also don’t need to tell your employer about a medical condition just for the sake of it. Do not expect that your employer will "know" more about how to accommodate you effectively if you inform them you have ADHD.
Example: “I have ADHD.” is a lot different than “I have a medical condition that’s been impacting my ability to focus on work. I think I’d benefit from exploring accommodation options, like a private office.”
Making the decision to request accommodations is difficult and can be super intimidating. It's natural to worry about how your employer will perceive you and the impact it may have on your job security and financial stability.
However, it’s important to remember that reasonable accommodations aren’t backdated, and your employer expects you to perform your job duties with or without them. I've seen many people wait until they're already on a performance improvement plan, and it always makes things way more complicated and stressful.
Bottom Line: If you believe accommodations would improve your performance or your well-being, you may want to start researching sooner than later.
If you’re not sure what you need check out this article for some ideas or schedule a consultation with me to brainstorm ideas and learn more about job coaching.
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