Several years ago I was searching for a framework that would keep me from getting lost in the complexities of a request for accommodation. I assisted a colleague in dealing with a request that was surrounded by “drama talk”. We’ve all experienced drama, it’s all the noise that goes on around an issue that people do not agree on or make much more dramatic that is warranted. (Think of the drama around the change at the hospital in Downton Abbey).
My colleague and I ruminated on “How do I stay focused on the desired outcome when I have an ambivalent work supervisor, the requestor’s co-workers, and often, an aggressive or reluctant requestor all anticipating ‘my decision’ about the outcome?” Well, following what Franciscan philosopher William Ockham may have been thinking, I decided to break down the problem to a set of smaller issues that had to be considered to reach the eventual conclusion.
In 1337 William of Ockham was reported to have said, “With all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.” So what are the “things being equal” in a request for accommodation? They tend to be the employee, the job, and the final accommodation. And thus came the phrase, and best practice, “One Person, One Job, One Accommodation”.
Since that time I have used this simple framework on a daily basis.
- One Person: focus on the person making the request for accommodation. That individual has the legal obligation to participate with good faith in finding a solution to the medical or mental disability that will enable him to return to being a qualified individual.
Worrying about how his co-workers will react to the offered accommodation comes later. And remember, if an accommodation truly disrupts the operation of the business unit, if it puts an additional burden on the other staff, or if it results in a direct threat to the staff it can be considered to be a failed accommodation. (see: Robert v. Board of County Commissioners of Brown County, Kansas)
- One Job: the employee at the center of the request “owns” one job. Don’t make the mistake of being baited into making a transfer to a more desirable position the focus of your conversation. Focus all of your efforts a identifying a safe and effective accommodation based on the job to which the employee is attached. If those efforts don’t turn up an accommodation, then move to the options of leave, a schedule change, or transfer to an open position.
- One Accommodation: working through a good faith effort, the team’s goal is to find and evaluate one successful accommodation. You, as the employer’s representative, are in charge of this process as much as the individual making the request so focus on identifying that one good accommodation. And if you find a likely accommodation which the individual refuses to try, his status as an unqualified individual may have opened the door to an end of his status of being employed by your organization.
And, as always, document the conversations and attitudes that paint a picture of the extent to which you and the employee participated in the search for a reasonable, safe, and effective accommodation. In the end it isn’t the drama that counts, it’s the documentation.