Avoid 10 Common ADA Mistakes

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability previously established by the ADA and effectively expanded the group of people who would qualify as disabled. The amendments put more pressure on employers to provide reasonable accommodations and created more potential liability for companies that are not in careful observance of the law. This article provides helpful guidance for employers to follow, as well as common mistakes to avoid.

What Employers Can Do

There are steps employers can take to protect themselves from liability and prepare their company in case of a future lawsuit.

Keep Job Descriptions Detailed and Accurate

It is important that job descriptions are kept up to date and include essential functions of a job. Remember that employers generally have a responsibility to reasonably accommodate an employee who cannot perform an essential function. However, an employer does not have to eliminate an essential function of a job position as part of a reasonable accommodation. Essential functions in a job description can be one factor in legally proving that the task is indeed essential to the job; these functions can include physical requirements like lifting or standing and stamina requirements like working long hours or weeks.

Develop an Accommodation Policy

Creating and distributing a reasonable accommodation policy can demonstrate your commitment to honoring the ADA. The policy should direct all reasonable accommodation requests to HR rather than to supervisors, as HR professionals are better equipped to deal with the nuances and legal risks of handling these types of requests.

Train Supervisors

Even though you direct employees to HR, supervisors still need to know how to handle the situation if a reasonable accommodation is requested of them. They should not respond either yes or no to the request, regardless of how feasible it may or may not be, but should instead refer the situation to HR. In addition, supervisors must be trained to handle potential ADA situations that may arise during a job interview or in their daily work with employees.

Common Mistakes

In navigating the ADA, HR professionals should be careful to avoid these common mistakes.

  1. Ending accommodation dialogue with an employee if no reasonable accommodation can be found to help the employee perform an essential job function. In this situation, employers should consider other accommodations such as working part-time, reassigning the employee or providing an unpaid leave of absence.
  2. Taking a manager’s word that a function is, in fact, essential. This will be contested if the issue goes to court, so employers should investigate themselves to determine whether a function in question is essential or not.
  3. Using the “undue hardship” provision too liberally. For instance, reasons such as cost or other employees’ reactions will generally not be accepted by the court as an undue hardship for providing a reasonable accommodation.
  4. Discussing details of a disability with the employee’s manager. The manager should generally only know the nature of the accommodation being provided. An exception is if the disability affects how the manager will interact with the employee, such as a hearing impairment.
  5. Failing to consider other laws applicable to an employee’s disability. For instance, a disability under the ADA often also qualifies as a serious health condition under FMLA, so FMLA laws and provisions might come into play.
  6. Rejecting an employee’s request because it seems unreasonable or impractical. Employers should still engage in a dialogue with the employee to see if a solution can be reached. Even if you still determine that the request is not feasible, it is important to follow the full process to reach that decision (and document it completely).
  7. Eliminating essential functions as an accommodation, even for a limited period. Though sometimes this is a feasible solution, it can also make it harder to argue later that the function is essential for this or any employee. In addition, other employees may argue that the function should not be essential for them either, or claim discrimination. To do this safely, emphasize that suspending or relaxing the essential function is temporary and document the specific reasons for this action to avoid discrimination claims from other employees.
  8. Failing to properly document a denied accommodation request. Documenting the process followed and the reason for denial will help your defense in the event of litigation.
  9. Taking performance into account when deciding if an accommodation is reasonable. All workers should be treated the same in this process, whether high performers or underachievers.
  10. Not considering reasonable accommodations just because the employee doesn’t offer any specific ideas. If an employee tells HR that he or she needs an accommodation, it is the employer’s responsibility to investigate potential accommodations.

Now more than ever, the burden has shifted to employers to provide reasonable accommodations when possible and show care in handling disability-related issues in the workplace. It is important that you are familiar with the nuances of the ADA and the ADA Amendments Act to keep your company in compliance and avoid costly lawsuits and penalties.

Diabetes: The Employer’s Role      

People suffering from diabetes can be found at workplaces. These individuals do not want their disease to interfere with their everyday lives or careers, and with proper disease management, they can and will continue to be productive members of the workforce.

Employees with diabetes can have an impact on your company. It can cause increased health care costs and hamper productivity if the disease is not properly managed. However, it is important for employers to avoid discriminating against employees with diabetes. By providing diabetes management education and support for your employees, you can help them manage their conditions and remain productive workers.

Types of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes:

  • Usually diagnosed before age 30
  • The pancreas produces little or no insulin, so the body cannot control the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
  • Type 1 diabetes sufferers take insulin and monitor their blood sugar, eat healthy foods and engage in regular physical fitness to control blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes:

  • Usually diagnosed after age 40
  • The pancreas produces insufficient amounts of insulin and/or the body cannot use the insulin to control blood sugar levels.
  • Managed by eating healthy foods, engaging in regular physical fitness, taking medication and monitoring blood sugar levels.

Gestational diabetes:

  • Pregnant women can develop gestational diabetes when blood sugar becomes elevated because their bodies cannot produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin properly.
  • Managed similar to Type 2 diabetes
The Employer’s Role

Since diabetic employees need the education to manage their disease, you can take an active role to help in their efforts. Here are some easy yet effective ways to assist your diabetic employees:

  • Create a supportive work environment so that employees feel comfortable performing behaviors to manage their condition (taking insulin shots or monitoring blood sugar).
  • Provide opportunities for all employees to live healthier lifestyles to reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes.
  • Provide healthy food options at employee functions.
  • Educate employees on prevention and early detection methods.
  • Increase awareness of blood sugar management.
  • Offer high-quality medical care and educate your employees on the care that they have at their disposal by outlining their covered benefits, services and supplies provided to control their disease.
  • Promote blood sugar management techniques for diabetic employees to control blood glucose levels. This will improve their quality of life and will reduce health care costs.
 ADA Implications

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Since an employee with diabetes may be considered disabled under the ADA, employers need to understand their rights and obligations under the ADA.

Under Title I of the ADA, qualified individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination in the job application process; in hiring, firing, advancement, compensation and job training; and in other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. Employers are also required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, provided that the accommodations do not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business.

When is diabetes considered a disability?

The determination of whether a person has a disability under the ADA is made on a case-by-case basis. Diabetes is a disability when it substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities, or if the diabetes was substantially limiting in the past. Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty, such as working, caring for oneself and walking. Diabetes could also be a disability when it causes side effects or complications that substantially limit a major life activity. Finally, a person could be considered disabled if an employer simply treats a person as though diabetes substantially limits his or her major life activities.

When may an employer ask an applicant questions about his or her diabetes?

During the application stage, an employer may not ask questions about an applicant’s medical condition or require a medical examination. In the event an applicant voluntarily tells an employer about his or her diabetes, an employer may only ask whether the applicant needs a reasonable accommodation and what type of accommodation is necessary. Once a job offer is made, an employer may ask questions about an applicant’s health and may require a medical exam. However, the employer must treat all applicants the same. The fact that an applicant has diabetes may not be used to withdraw a job offer if the applicant is able to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation, and without posing a direct threat to safety.

When may an employer ask employee questions about his or her diabetes?

An employer may ask employee questions or require a medical exam only if the employer has a legitimate reason based on objective medical evidence to believe that diabetes or another medical condition may be affecting an employee’s ability to do his or her job, or that the employee is a direct threat to safety.

An employer may also ask about diabetes when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation because of his or her diabetes, or if the employee participates in a voluntary wellness program that focuses on early detection, screening, and management of diseases such as diabetes. In general, an employer may only use the information provided by the employee to make reasonable accommodations or to determine whether the employee is a direct threat to safety.

What is a reasonable accommodation for an employee with diabetes?

Accommodations will vary depending on the person. The ADA requires employers to provide modifications requested by employees unless doing so would be a significant difficulty or expense. The employer should ask the employee what they need to help do their job.

Accommodations for diabetic employees may include:

  • A private area to test blood sugar levels or take insulin
  • A place to rest until blood sugar levels become normal
  • Breaks to eat or drink, take medication or test blood sugar levels
  • Leave for treatment
  • Modified work schedules or shift changes

An employer does not have to provide the most difficult or the most costly accommodation if there is an easier or less costly way to meet an employee’s needs. The website for the Job Accommodation Network provides accommodation ideas for employees with diabetes.

Can an employer disclose that an employee has diabetes?

An employer must keep any medical information that it learns about an applicant or an employee confidential. However, there are limited exceptions:

  • Disclosure to supervisors that an employee has diabetes, to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee’s work restrictions
  • Disclosure to first aid and safety personnel if an employee needs emergency treatment or some other assistance
  • Disclosure to individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and similar state and local laws
  • Disclosure when needed for workers’ compensation insurance purposes, such as for processing claims
Real-life Example

According to the Wisconsin Diabetes Prevention & Control Program, a division of the Department of Health Services, diabetes management programs are effective in the workplace. A 12-week study of 569 male employees who had Type 2 diabetes revealed these results:

  • Employees who had assistance managing their diabetes were more productive on the job and able to remain employed longer than those who did not manage their blood sugar levels.
  • The lost earnings from absenteeism were estimated at $24 per employee per month for those who had assistance managing their blood sugar levels versus $115 per employee per month for those who had uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
  • Employees with assistance had fewer instances of needing bed rest and restricted activities than those who did not have diabetes management assistance.

Sapoznik Insurance’s Client Wellnext Ranked No. 1 on Springbuk’s 2017 “Healthiest 100 Workplaces in America” List

Click Here to download Press Release as PDF

3 Tips for a Stress-free Holiday Season

The holiday season brings joy and togetherness, but it can also bring stress to individuals and families. Top holiday stressors include staying on a budget, managing multiple commitments and finding the perfect gift. Fortunately, by getting organized and planning ahead of time, can help reduce your holiday stress.

  1.  Write down any known commitments. Does your child’s school have a holiday concert? Are you planning on hosting a holiday dinner? Making a list of your commitments will help you plan your time and help you avoid double-booking yourself.
  2.  Create your budget now. If you’re stressed about how your holiday spending will impact you after the holidays are over, you’re not alone. Remember, the sentiment of a gift is much more important than the cost. Set a realistic budget and do not go over it.
  3.  Start shopping early. Do you already know what you want to get some people on your list? Don’t be afraid to shop early. Sometimes, you can get great deals on presents even before the holiday season hits. Besides, you can avoid the scenario of not being able to get the gift you want because it’s sold out.

Though these tips won’t prevent all of the holiday stress you may experience, they can reduce it. If you experience high holiday stress, try these coping mechanisms to get your stress under control.

Protect Yourself and Your Family

You know the importance of having health care coverage and a 401(k), but are you taking advantage of all the benefits offers? Voluntary benefits are additional benefit options offered through the company. Unlike traditional benefits like health coverage, employees are responsible for paying most or all of the cost of these voluntary options.

What’s the Advantage?

You may wonder–if you’re responsible to pay, then why elect any voluntary benefits? There are several advantages.

Lower Price

If the benefit in question is something you are planning to purchase for yourself regardless, then it is probably more cost-effective to purchase through. The group rate we can secure is generally lower than what you’d pay buying individually from an insurance company.

Convenience

When you elect a voluntary benefit option through our open enrollment, your premium is paid through convenient payroll deductions just like your other benefits (and you receive the same benefit of pre-tax payroll deductions). Plus, you can skip the hassle of shopping around to find and purchase a plan – simply elect what you need during enrollment time.

Protect Yourself and Your Family

Many of these types of insurance may seem unnecessary, but they are designed to protect you in the event of an unexpected illness, accident, death or another event. For instance, you may be skeptical about needing disability insurance, but consider if you could afford to be disabled and without a paycheck for weeks or months, plus having medical bills to pay? Paying a small premium now can help protect you financially.

Common Types

There are a variety of voluntary benefit options; some of the common ones include:

  • Life Insurance – employees can typically elect up to a certain amount without needing to go through medical underwriting
  • Vision Insurance – typically includes free annual eye exam and discounts on glasses and contacts
  • Dental Insurance – generally covers preventive services and offers a discount on other treatments
  • Long-term Care Insurance – covers the care people need when they have lost the ability to perform certain daily activities (care that may not be covered under Medicare or Medicaid)
  • Short-term Disability – covers a percentage of lost pay due to time away from work because of a disability, generally up to three or six months
  • Long-term Disability – covers care needed over a longer period of time, for injuries that could affect someone for years
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment – coverage in case an employee dies in an accident or loses a limb, vision or hearing.

IRS Announces Employee Benefit Plan Limits for 2018

Many employee benefits are subject to annual dollar limits that are periodically increased for inflation. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently announced cost-of-living adjustments to the annual dollar limits for various welfare and retirement plan limits for 2018. Although some of the limits will remain the same, many of the limits will increase for 2018.

The annual limits for the following commonly offered employee benefits will increase for 2018:

  • High deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs);
  • Health flexible spending accounts (FSAs);
  • Transportation fringe benefit plans; and
  • 401(k) plans.

ACTION STEPS

Employers should update their benefit plan designs for the new limits and also make sure that their plan administration will be consistent with the new limits in 2018. Employers may also want to communicate the new benefit plan limits to employees in connection with annual open enrollment.

HSA and HDHP Limits

HSA Contribution Limit
Limit 2017 2018 Change
Self-only HDHP coverage $3,400 $3,450 Up $50
Family HDHP coverage $6,750 $6,900 Up $150
Catch-up contributions* $1,000 $1,000 No change

*Not adjusted for inflation

HDHP Limits
Limit 2017 2018 Change
Minimum deductible Self-only coverage $1,300 $1,350 Up $50
Family coverage $2,600 $2,700 Up $100
Maximum out-of-pocket Self-only coverage $6,550 $6,650 Up $100
Family coverage $13,100 $13,300 Up $200

FSA Benefits

FSA Limits
Limit 2017 2018 Change
Health FSA (limit on employees’ pre-tax contributions) $2,600 $2,650 Up $50
Dependent care FSA (tax exclusion)* $5,000 ($2,500 if married  and filing taxes separately) $5,000 ($2,500 if married and filing taxes separately) No change

*Not adjusted for inflation                                                                                             

Transportation Fringe Benefits

Transportation Benefits
Limit (monthly limits) 2017 2018 Change
Transit pass and vanpooling (combined) $255 $260 Up $5
Parking $255 $260 Up $5

Adoption Assistance Benefits

Adoption Benefits
Limit 2017 2018 Change
Tax exclusion (employer-provided assistance) $13,570 $13,840 Up $270

Qualified Small Employer HRA (QSEHRA)

QSEHRA
Limit 2017 2018 Change
Payments and Reimbursements Employee-only coverage $4,950 $5,050 Up $100
Family coverage $10,000 $10,250 Up $250

401(k) Contributions

401(k) Contributions
Limit 2017 2018 Change
Employee elective deferrals $18,000 $18,500 Up $500
Catch-up contributions $6,000 $6,000 No change

This is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.

Brain Awareness: Use it Or Lose it

The brain’s capacity is enormous, yet many scientists suggest that we only use a small percentage it. What are you doing to maximize your brain’s potential?

Brain Functions

Your brain helps you analyze sensory data, remember information, learn new information, create thoughts and make decisions.

It is divided into halves called cerebral hemispheres. Each hemisphere is further divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital. Each lobe has its own responsibilities. The frontal lobe is responsible for cognition and memory. The parietal lobe processes sensations related to touch. Visual perception is controlled by the occipital lobe. The temporal lobe is responsible for auditory senses.

Like many other organs, the brain ages. This process is responsible for a decline in memory, decision-making ability and verbal skills.

Exercise Your Brain

Here are several ways to delay the aging of your brain:

  • Exercise your mind—Challenge your brain daily by making note of last week’s activities, working on crossword puzzles, trying a new hobby or reading more books.
  • Exercise your body—Physical exercise reduces depression and other cardiovascular risks. It also produces a euphoric state by releasing endorphins. Enjoy physical activity daily; take the stairs rather than elevator at work, park in the back of the parking lot or take a brisk 10-minute walk during lunch.
  • Eat healthy—Like your body, your brain has certain dietary requirements. Proteins and foods high in unsaturated fats help with brain development. Eating foods low in cholesterol and saturated fats, in addition to eating breakfast daily, can jump-start your brain. Also, protect your brain with antioxidant vitamins E and C.
  • Focus on safety—Wear protective headgear when enjoying physical activities like riding a bike or snowboarding. Wear a seat belt to protect your head from trauma in case of a car accident.
  • Get plenty of sleep—Lack of sleep leads to mental fatigue and loss of memory. Try to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. During sleep, the brain repairs itself, collects the day’s events and files everything into memory.
  • Reduce stress—Stress can lead to memory loss. High stress releases cortisol in the brain, which absorbs the brain’s primary food source, glucose. Reduce stress with exercise, meditation or a quiet activity you enjoy.
  • Quit smoking and refrain from illegal drug use—Research shows that smoking can lead to mental decline; drugs such as ecstasy and marijuana can result in mental deterioration.
  • Listen to music—Research shows that music is good for the brain, specifically baroque music, which can reduce stress.