Reasonable Accommodations FAQ for Supervisors

Supervisors and HR staff play an important role in not only helping us identify reasonable accommodations  for an employee through the interactive process, but also ensuring that accommodations are provided in an inclusive environment that supports employee success and departmental effectiveness.

We encourage supervisors to review this FAQ and to contact us for additional resources, information or clarification as needed by emailing accessibility@illinois.edu or calling 217-333-0885, option #1.

What is the campus policy that governs the reasonable accommodation process under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)?

The Campus Administrative Manual HR-67: Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act is the policy for all Urbana-Champaign employees.

When and how must an employee with a disability ask for a reasonable accommodation?

The ADA does not require employees to ask for a reasonable accommodation at a certain time. A person may experience a new medical condition or disability, or a change in the severity or the impact of a pre-existing condition, at any time. Therefore, every employee has the right to ask for a reasonable accommodation at any time during their employment. Our staff will work with them to understand the diagnosis and how it impacts them in the work context.

However, accommodations are not retroactive — they do not exempt an employee from accountability for past performance issues.

Moreover, accommodation requests do not have to be in writing. They can be verbal, and they can also be communicated via someone other then the employee, such as their family member, medical provider, etc. In any of these situations, please refer the person to our office.

Should I request or accept medical documentation from an employee who mentions a disability or medical condition, or asks for a reasonable accommodation?

No. Please thank the employee for their willingness to share the information, but redirect them to the Request a Workplace Accommodation form. The Accessibility and Accommodations Division will collect any relevant medical documentation and store it in our database. If the employee is trying to submit FMLA paperwork, please direct them to your unit HR representative for further assistance.

An employee asks for a particular workplace item (standing desk/ergonomic chair) due to a medical condition or disability, should I go ahead and order them what they have requested?

If the item the employee has asked for is not something that your department/unit has readily available or would routinely purchase for any employee, they should seek an accommodation: please provide the employee with the contact information for the Accessibility and Accommodation Division and the link to the Request a Workplace Accommodation form.

If the item is readily available or would be routinely obtained for any employee (with no need for a special justification), you may provide the item without going through the accommodation process. However, we recommend that you document the employee’s request and the action you have taken. And we would still recommend that you provide our contact information and the accommodation reqeust link above: the employee may have additional needs that they can discuss with us in order to identify other accommodations or resources to help them perform the essential functions of their position.

Can I require an employee with a disability to perform their essential job functions to an equivalent performance standard as those without disabilities?

Yes. An employee with a disability must meet the same production/performance standards as their non-disabled coworkers in the same job, based on the essential functions of the job. However, employees with disabilities must be provided a reasonable accommodation when needed in order to enable them to meet those standards.

Can I require an employee with a disability to perform their essential job functions in the same manner as a non-disabled employee?

Sometimes. Certain essential functions of a job can be performed in different ways, including through the use of a reasonable accommodation. For instance, employees may perform essential functions using assistive technology, using an alternative schedule, or in an alternate location (remote work). However, an employer is not required to allow use of an alternate method that would impose an undue hardship on the employer or that would result in the employee not being able to fulfill the essential functions of their job.

If an employee with an accommodation is having performance issues, does this mean the accommodation is not working?

Not necessarily. The supervisor should not assume that any performance issues are related to the accommodation not working. The supervisor should utilize the same approach they would use for any other employee to try to determine the cause of the performance issue and address it.

Because of the complexities involved in these situations, we encourage supervisors to give employee feedback fairly, consistently, and on a timely basis, so as to ensure that any performance issues can be addressed promptly. And if either the employee or the supervisor believes the performance issues have some connection to the employee’s disability or their current accommodations, they should contact our office so that we can provide the appropriate guidance.

Should I ask about or bring up an employee’s disability during a discussion about performance issues or workplace conduct?

This is not advisable. When discussing an employee’s performance or conduct, the supervisor should not suggest, speculate, or inquire about a medical or disability reason for the employee’s behaviors or issues. There may be situations in which additional nuance is needed:

– Has the employee previously made mention of having a disability or medical condition?
– Do you have reason to suspect that the employee has a disability or medical issue?
– Have you observed any changes in the employee’s physical movements or behaviors that you think may be related to a disability or medical condition?

In any of these situations, we recommend a cautious approach. While keeping the primary focus on the performance or behaviors, and documenting those as appropriate, it is also valid to ask very generally, “How can I help?” or “Is there anything we haven’t discussed yet that may be impacting your performance?”

You can also state, “All university employees have the right to seek reasonable accommodations for a disability or medical condition. If that is something you’d like to learn more about, I would be happy to provide you with the contact information for the Accessibility & Accommodations Division.”

If I give critical feedback or a lower performance rating to an employee, and they say they have a disability/medical condition that is causing the performance problem, what should I do?

Supervisors have the right to hold employees accountable for the performance of their essential job functions, and accommodations are not retroactive. Supervisors should be consistent and accurate in giving performance feedback to their employees.

If an employee discloses a disability or medical condition and asks for an accommodation (or if the supervisor for any other reason believes that a disability or medical issue may be affecting the employee’s performance in some way) the supervisor should provide information about the reasonable accommodations process verbally, and then follow up in an email providing contact information for the Accessibility & Accommodations Division along with any other appropriate resource contacts such as IHR and FSAWS. The supervisor should also make clear what performance expectations/outcomes the employee is expected to meet, with or without a reasonable accommodation.

It is always the employee’s choice whether to request an accommodation. If and when they do so, our staff will contact the supervisor to engage in the interactive process and finalize the accommodations to be put into place for the employee. Ongoing performance management should be kept separate from the accommodation discussion. However, if ongoing observation indicates that the accommodation isn’t working effectively, the employee or the supervisor can contact us to re-open the interactive process.

Can I alter or cancel an employee's accommodation because they receive a letter of expectation or negative performance evaluation?

No. A supervisor or HR representative may not unilaterally withdraw any reasonable accommodation without going through the interactive process through our office. Accommodations are not a privilege or a perk, they are a legal obligation to the university to provide. Revoking an accommodation as punishment for an unsatisfactory performance rating can create a retaliation risk under university policy and applicable law. Anyone seeking to alter the accommodation should contact their Accessibility Specialist or email us at accessibility@illinois.edu.

If an employee who has a reasonable accommodation is not fulfilling essential job functions to a satisfactory level of performance, the two may or may not be connected. If the supervisor or HR representative believe that the accommodation is causing or contributing to the performance gap, they should contact the Accessibility and Accommodations Division to re-open the interactive process in order to evaluate the situation and assess how the accommodation is affecting the performance issues. Our staff will discuss with the employee and with the supervisor whether additional or revised accommodations are needed to enable the employee to successfully perform their essential functions, and ensure that the university upholds its compliance obligations, the rights of its employees, and its ability to carry out its mission and operations.

An employee in my unit is asking questions about a co-worker's workplace accommodation or modification. How should I respond?

It is important not to identify that an employee is receiving an accommodation — doing so is an inappropriate disclosure of an employee’s confidential disability or religious information.

If an employee has questions or concerns about the equal distribution of work, or feels that they are being unfairly tasked with job duties that a co-worker is not performing, those issues should be addressed by the supervisor without disclosing private disability, medical, or religious information about any employee.

In cases where sharing some information with colleagues may be necessary in order to implement the accommodation, please discuss that with your Accessibility Specialist.

In general, supervisors should emphasize the importance of maintaining the privacy of all employees and not discussing the work situation of any employee with co-workers. One way a unit may be able to avoid many of these kinds of questions is by engaging in training opportunities with the Accessibility and Accommodations Division on creating an inclusive environment for employees of diverse backgrounds including disability. This kind of proactive approach may lead to fewer questions from employees who misperceive co-worker accommodations as special treatment.

How can I learn more about my responsibilities as a supervisor under the ADA?

Please reach out to the Accessibility and Accommodations Division directly by emailing accessibility@illinois.edu or calling 217-333-0885, option #1. We can answer questions one-on-one, provide guidance on general topics or schedule training for your unit, college, or group of supervisors on a wide variety of topics including accommodations best practices etc.