Businesses are dependent on both employees and Information Technology (“IT”) to keep the day-to-day running smoothly. But sometimes an employee cannot operate the business’s technology without some accommodation. Before this becomes an issue for your business, consider implementing an accommodation policy related to your business’s IT processes.
As the workforce becomes more diverse in every sense, especially with crossing generations and differing working circumstances, businesses need to be forward-looking with policies to be able to recruit and retain the best employees. With business growth, distance working may become a factor in hiring decisions, and accessibility to IT processes becomes a necessity. One policy every business should adopt is one related to accessibility to IT for all employees, regardless of location.
- The employee with a “hidden” impairment.
As an example: It’s Monday morning, and a new employee’s first day on the job. The employee goes to his new office, only to find he is not able to use the keyboard connected to the computer. Also, the employee needs to have a special screen reader to do his work on the computer. The employee did not anticipate these issues because he wears glasses and his last employer provided a different keyboard to every employee.
This situation occurs more often now than ever before. Frequently, employees have disabilities that are considered “hidden.” This could include mobility conditions, impaired cognitive conditions, or chronic illnesses. These are impairments that an employer cannot see, or can but believes it is something commonplace (such as an employee who wears glasses). More importantly, these conditions may not have impacted an employee at his or her previous place of employment. It is important to recognize that not all disabilities are apparent, or have ever been a hinderance in the past. A new work place, or a return to work after leave, may require adjustments that neither the employer nor employee anticipated. Recognizing this variable can save a business time and money by having a plan in place before the plan needs to be used.
- Employees not physically present for the work day make it harder for the Employer to know whether a disability exists.
Similar to the issue of “hidden” impairments, distance or tele-commuting employees may also suffer from impairments that are not easily identifiable for an employer. An employee who tele-commutes for work may need special accommodations that are portable. Going back to the first example, a tele-commuting employee may need a portable, specialized keyboard that can connect to the employee’s laptop. Or the employee needs a screen reader that can detach from the employee’s computer at work, and reattach to the employee’s laptop.
- Always keep the Americans with Disabilities Act restrictions in mind.
Always remember, a person conducting an interview cannot directly or indirectly ask if an applicant has a disability. Likewise, if an applicant offers information of an existing disability, an interviewer may only ask for information in the context of the position’s essential duties (for example, whether a qualified applicant can still use a computer with or without accommodation for the applicant’s carpal tunnel syndrome).
Interviewers and business owners also must keep in mind that an employee may not be aware of the need for an accommodation. Going back to the example of an applicant with carpal tunnel, it is possible that applicant’s condition never flared up at the applicant’s last job. But when the applicant becomes an employee, the employee realizes that the workspace layout makes the carpal tunnel worse. This is when a business with an IT Accommodation policy comes out ahead. Businesses without a similar policy in place will need to spend the time and resources on figuring out what the business can do to accommodate the employee.
To be able to attract and retain top employees, a business must be prepared to handle any curve ball. The best way to handle curve balls is to plan for the unexpected. A policy that sets out who an employee should contact, the process the business will follow to accommodate an employee, and a list of pre-approved accommodations will save a business both time and money. This way, an employee who needs a split keyboard instead of a traditional keyboard can reference the policy to see a split keyboard is pre-approved, and the employee only needs to contact the company’s designated person to make it happen. What could have become a human relations nightmare, was easily solved by pre-empting the problem with a simple IT Accommodation policy.