Over the past five years, the outsourced vendor landscape has evolved related to the administration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Carriers and third-party administrators (TPA) who previously supported employers with leave compliance at the federal and state levels (i.e. FMLA, MA PFML, CT PFL, etc.) are now proficient in ADA and will support employers with their compliance requirements. 

Product offerings vary in the market, with some including support for leave as an accommodation exclusively and others providing support with all accommodations including leave.  The assistance available from vendor partners also differs, with some supporting the entire process end-to-end, including coordination of the interactive process with supervisors and employees, while others support data collection but leave the interactive process to supervisors, employees, and HR.  At this point, all carriers and TPAs agree that the ultimate decision on the accommodation rests exclusively with the employer, including evaluation of the potential hardship. 

Employers with minimal accommodation requests likely do not need support from an external partner.  For those employers, it is usually optimal to build some subject matter expertise internally within HR and funnel requests through that resource.  At a high level that process should include the following steps:

  • Identify the need for accommodation, facilitate intake/request
  • Validate the need/disability, gather information
  • Facilitate the interactive process
    • Consider options
    • Choose optimal accommodation in partnership with the employee
  • Implement the accommodation (if applicable)

Although the supervisor is a critical part of the process, we typically recommend that supervisors do not independently manage the ADA process – especially if the volume of requests is small – as they may not understand the compliance requirements.  In addition, they often only have a view into their business unit or team, making it impossible for them to understand how the broader organization would define a hardship under the ADA as compared to their team or business unit. 

If the volume of accommodation requests is high or subject matter expertise does not exist in-house, leveraging your external provider may be a strong option.  By co-sourcing the ADA solution, you can leverage the expertise of the external vendor but leave decision-making to your team, including HR, supervisor and employee.  Key assessment of an ADA offering includes the following:

  • Expertise of firm; skillset of those managing accommodations
  • Offering; what is included in the fee
    • Intake
    • Certification
    • Communications
    • Interactive process
    • Implementation of accommodation (i.e. order device, implement change, track ongoing needs until return to full time and full duty without accommodation)
  • Add-on services (what additional support can they provide with additional fee?)
  • Hand-offs between their team and HR, supervisors, etc.
  • Training available both at transition and on-demand; most will not participate in training until it directly impacts them

Regardless of the partner selected, employers can never fully outsource the accommodation process.  Although it often feels like a burden, returning accommodated employees to the workplace is in the best interest of everyone.  The ADA does not require that employers remove essential job functions, but it does ensure that disabled employees who are able to perform the essential functions of their job with an accommodation receive those legally required accommodations. 

If you need support with your accommodation process and compliance with ADA, free resources are available through the Job Accommodation Network (askjan.org) or feel free to reach out to our team for guidance.