Overview of the University Employee Accommodation Request Process
The University of Texas at Austin (University) is required by law to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities. The University’s ADA Coordinators are charged with coordinating the University’s compliance with the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended (ADA). University employees with a qualifying condition are evaluated for workplace accommodations under Title I of the ADA.
Having a medical condition alone is not enough to make someone eligible for accommodation under the ADA. Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. To have an “actual” disability (or to have a “record of” a disability) an individual must be (or have been) substantially limited in performing a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population.
Initiating the Accommodation Process
Employees seeking workplace accommodation(s) are responsible for initiating contact with and requesting information regarding accommodations. Employees interested in workplace accommodations can call or email the Office for Inclusion and Equity (OIE) to request the paperwork to start the accommodation process.
An employee may request a reasonable accommodation at any time, either orally or in writing. A request does not have to include any specific words, such as “reasonable accommodation,” “disability,” or “Americans with Disabilities Act.” A request is any communication in which an individual asks or states that s/he needs the University to provide or to change something because of a medical condition. A supervisor, manager, or OIE will ask an individual whether s/he is requesting a reasonable accommodation if the nature of the initial communication is unclear. Supervisors who receive a request for accommodation should refer the employee to OIE, and notify that office of such referral via email at email@example.com.
Although employees may initially consult with OIE without first informing his or her supervisor, supervisors are an important part of the process and will be brought into the discussion about the specific impact of the medical condition on job performance and recommended accommodations. It is important to note that in having this discussion, OIE does not share the medical diagnosis or disability documentation with the supervisor, but rather maintains the focus on the limitations of the condition(s) and suggested accommodations.
Processing the Request
When an employee indicates there is a need for an accommodation, OIE will provide the individual with the necessary paperwork to be completed. University employees can also access and print the necessary paperwork for an ADA accommodation by visiting the Accommodation Request Forms page. In order to determine whether an employee is eligible for accommodations under the ADA, he or she will need to provide written documentation from their licensed health care provider concerning their disability.
After receiving the documentation from the employee’s health care provider, OIE will review the medical information to determine its adequacy. If the information provided is incomplete, unclear or inconsistent, OIE may request that the employee obtain additional or clarifying information from their healthcare provider.
OIE has the authority to obtain, at departmental expense, an independent medical opinion concerning the impairment for which an employee seeks an accommodation. The failure of an employee to cooperate in obtaining such an opinion will result in the cancellation of the request for accommodation.
Once an employee has provided the necessary paperwork to facilitate an accommodation request, OIE will notify the University’s ADA Coordinators. Dr. Jennifer Maedgen, Senior Associate Vice President in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, serves as the ADA/504 Coordinator for the campus, as well as the Electronic Information Resources (EIR) Coordinator. Ms. Stephanie Myers, also in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, serves as the Deputy ADA Coordinator and is the primary point person for employee accommodations.
The accommodation process is a collaborative and interactive process between the ADA Coordinators, the employee seeking accommodations, the employee’s supervisor, and/or other appropriate personnel (including Human Resource personnel and Benefits).
Once an employee has submitted his or her completed ADA paperwork, the ADA Coordinators will reach out to schedule a time to meet with him or her in person. Communication is a priority throughout the entire process, but particularly when the specific limitation, problem, or barrier is unclear; when an effective accommodation is not obvious; or when the parties are considering different forms of reasonable accommodation. After meeting with an employee, the ADA Coordinators will reach out to the employee’s supervisor to discuss the accommodations being requested and explore the feasibility of their implementation.
The ADA Coordinators work collaboratively with both the employee and the supervisor to identify a mutually agreeable accommodation that will provide the employee with the opportunity to be successful. Finding an accommodation that has the support of both the employee and his or her supervisor helps to ensure a successful and sustainable outcome. When necessary, the ADA Coordinators have the latitude to implement an accommodation they deem reasonable and/or to modify workplace/departmental policies to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation.
After meeting with both the employee and their supervisor, separately, the ADA Coordinators will make a determination as to whether the employee is a qualified individual with a disability and whether the requested accommodation(s) is reasonable. The next step is to draft a letter of accommodation for the employee. The letter of accommodation will:
- Outline the accommodation(s) being provided
- List expectations related to the implementation of the accommodation(s)
- Provide a timeframe for when the accommodations will be reviewed to determine their effectiveness
- List the names of those who were party to the accommodation process and are involved in the implementation of the approved accommodations (including supervisors, Human Resource personnel, & Benefits)
There may be instances in which there is no reasonable accommodation that enables the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her job. Although there is a requirement to facilitate the interactive process and to explore whether or not there is a reasonable accommodation, there is no requirement to provide the exact accommodation requested by the individual or to remove an essential function of the position.
Any records or information obtained by the ADA Coordinators as a part of the accommodation process that reflects diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment of an employee’s medical or mental health condition are considered confidential and maintained by OIE. Such records shall be shared with only those University employees who have a need to know in order to implement the accommodation process and shall not be released except as required by law. ADA related files are kept separate and apart from the location of personnel files and access is limited to the ADA Coordinators and OIE personnel.
The ADA Coordinators and personnel involved in evaluating an accommodation request are not covered entities as defined in the HIPAA rules. With certain exceptions, the ADA Coordinators will not disclose the diagnostic or treatment information (including the ADA file) of employees participating in the accommodation process. There are, however, instances when the aforementioned information is shared with certain individuals such as Human Resource personnel, first aid and safety personnel, or University personnel investigating compliance with the ADA (including OIE, Compliance, & Legal).
The knowledge that an employee has an approved workplace accommodation is limited to those involved in the accommodation process. Supervisors and staff involved should take care to maintain confidentiality. Faculty with accommodations related to their building assignment need to be aware that the ADA Coordinators will also inform their department’s course scheduler and the Registrar’s Office of the approved accommodation.
There is no “one size fits all” approach. Many reasonable accommodations may seem common sense- like a better fitting chair, or a larger computer monitor, but some accommodations are more complex. All accommodations have the same goal: to make UT Austin employees successful and motivated in the workplace.