You often hear people say that “it’s the little things that count.” Unfortunately, this is true for both positive and negative “little things.” In my practice, I’ve encountered a lot of problems with “little things” when it comes to the Americans with Disabilities Act… namely, managers (and sometimes even HR representatives) poorly handling employees’ requests for accommodation.
What I mean by managerial “poor handling” is that the manager’s response to the employee’s request for accommodation may be less than professional or polite… perhaps it’s even curt, abrasive or insensitive. Sometimes this poor handling comes in the form of a negative non-verbal responses (often including eye rolls, “talk to the hand” gestures or standoffish body postures). Employees certainly notice such “little things” and the result can be polarizing.
Frequently, poor handling comes in the form of terse, resistant or even threatening-sounding text messages or emails from the manager. Of course, all of this documentation can be submitted as evidence. Ouch! EEOC investigators and juries often struggle to see past such “little things,” preventing them from getting to the substance of the claim. As a result, these little things can create big ADA liability risks—when if handled differently, a claim very well might never have been generated.
So, here’s a tip for HR professionals: teach your managers to always be polite and respectful whenever communicating with employees about ADA accommodation requests (both in verbal and written communications). Then have managers immediately bring the details about the request to you. Assure managers that they can express any concerns they have about the request (and encourage them to do so verbally at first—insensitive texts and emails from managers to HR can also be subpoenaed). Good handling is one of those important “little things” that pays big dividends when it comes to effectively handling accommodation requests and avoiding ADA claims.
This information is not provided as legal advice