Centralized Accommodation Programs
In recent years, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has focused heavily on issues affecting individuals with disabilities. Last year, the agency announced it would be conducting 500 reviews focused on compliance with regulations stemming from Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act. One topic OFCCP seems to be asking about routinely during these reviews is reasonable accommodation policies.
While there is no specific requirement to have a reasonable accommodation policy, it appears the agency is concerned with whether contractors are fairly and consistently providing accommodations to employees and applicants. This can be difficult to do for organizations both large and small. For instance, in some companies, front line supervisors act as “filters” for requests. In other companies, specific requests may be handled at the departmental level based on the nature of the request. For example, the information technology department may handle a request for a magnified computer monitor for an employee who is visually impaired, while the health and environmental safety department may handle a request for a specific type of mask for someone with breathing issues.
Situations like these can lead to inconsistent decision-making in the reasonable accommodation request process. One way employers can ensure more consistent decision-making is the establishment of a centralized accommodation process, sometimes referred to as a CAP. CAPs, which have been touted by OFCCP Director Craig Leen, move all decision-making and budgeting for accommodation requests to one team, such as the human resources department, or a committee made up of managers, legal professionals, and human resources professionals.
Benefits of Centralized Accommodation Programs
CAPs have a variety of benefits for employers, such as:
- Streamlining: CAPs provide for a streamlined process where requests for accommodation are evaluated in a consistent way. Evaluations of the reasonableness of requests are handled by individuals who have a much greater knowledge of ADA requirements than other department heads or frontline supervisors.
- Cost Reduction: the benefits of CAPs from a cost perspective can be vast—especially in large companies. CAPs allow employers to collect corporate-wide data on the types and natures of accommodation requests being sought by applicants and/or employees. Larger organizations can leverage enterprise-wide purchasing power to obtain materials at a lower cost for accommodation requests similar in nature (for example, if there are multiple requests for standing desks or screen readers). Smaller employers can make more informed decisions on whether accommodation requests are reasonable in light of resources available to meet these requests. CAPs can also decrease the potential legal costs associated with non-compliance. Additionally, CAPs can help avoid costs associated with the loss of an effective employee or well-qualified applicant who needed a limited accommodation to be successful.
- Accountability: CAPs increase both visibility and accountability regarding reasonable accommodations. Not only is it easier to ensure requests are being evaluated appropriately, the visibility into the process allows for the development of stronger and more efficient reasonable accommodation processes based on real, organizational-specific data.
- Assists in Developing a Disability Friendly Culture: CAPs are a great way to help shape the culture at an organization as disability inclusive. A CAP provides assurances to individuals with disabilities that they can, and should, feel safe in requesting a reasonable accommodation.
Resources for Employers
With an increased focus on disability issues by not just OFCCP but employees and customers, employers should consider whether a CAP is right for their organization. Employers who would like more information on creating a centralized accommodation process can find resources from the Job Accommodation Network and the Employer Assistance Resource Network on Disability Inclusion.