Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

The Struggles of ADA Compliance

By: | July 23, 2015 • 3 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

Twenty-five years after the passage of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers still struggle with making reasonable accommodation for employees with qualified disabilities. Making accommodations for employees under the original ADA legislation was easier. The ADA Amendments Act of 2009, however, has changed the process for employers, making it more difficult and time consuming.

Many individuals who were not qualified under the original ADA are now qualified and the law currently allows employees to remain off work (indefinite leave) under some circumstances instead of returning to work, which seems counter to the intent of the law. And employers have yet to see clear guidance on this from the EEOC.

Regardless of employer struggles, the purpose of the ADA is clear. The law requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer (“undue hardship”). An interactive process is mandated to determine if reasonable accommodation can be made for an employee with a qualified disability

Yet, here we are, 25 years after the passage of the ADA, and labor force participation by people with disabilities is actually lower than when this landmark law was passed.

Providing people with disabilities better access to transportation, public and private facilities and — above all — jobs, is something everyone should support. Greater job opportunities permit people to earn money to support themselves and thus diminishes their need for public assistance. Equally important, it affirms the dignity and the sense of self-worth that comes from making valued contributions to society.

Yet, here we are, 25 years after the passage of the ADA, and labor force participation by people with disabilities is actually lower than when this landmark law was passed.

Yet only a small proportion of disabled individuals are able to participate in the workforce. According to an online disability statistics data search tool maintained by Cornell University, 30 years ago 25.1 percent of people between the ages of 21 and 64 who had a work limitation were employed. In 1989, the year before the ADA passed, that proportion reached a high of 28.8 percent.

But by 2014, the percentage of people with a disability who were employed had fallen to 12.9 percent according to a Cornell study.

There are many reasons for the declining labor participation rate of the disabled. Overall labor participation has fallen, with especially large declines among older white males. But there is little doubt those with disabilities still face particular challenges in obtaining and maintaining a job.

As disability and absence management professionals, we have a special role to play in helping ensure they do. We need to do even more to educate colleagues and the larger public about disabilities, including those driven by behavioral health factors.

We need to work closer with those in other departments in our organizations to develop effective programs that not only comply with the law, but truly advance the goal of finding and keeping the best person for a particular position. And we need to make sure we’re doing all we can to keep pace with the creative and effective leave initiatives taking place in workplaces across the country.

Accommodating disabled workers is good for employees. It’s good for employers. And, most important, it’s the right thing to do. Twenty-five years after the passage of the ADA, there’s still a lot of work to do.

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