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Compliance Matters: Getting the Most from Job Evaluations

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When it comes to doing annual job evaluations, some employers can turn procrastination into an art form.

Performance reviews are one of those mandatory responsibilities, while important for employees and the company, are often not high on the Top Ten Fun List at work. After all, it means more work on top the work you already have.

But those evaluations are an effective and efficient way to keep your job descriptions updated, especially as they relate to essential duties and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

"Annual reviews are a perfect time to re-examine and update essential job functions," says Alicia Heine, the ADA coach at The Hartford. "The ADA does not require employers to maintain job descriptions, but essential functions are the first thing the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) looks at when they investigate ADA complaints."

Now do we have your attention?

Under the ADA, if an employee has a qualifying disability, regardless if it occurred on the job or off, it's the employer's responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations unless it would create an undue hardship. These accommodations are critical can help an employee stay at work and stay engaged. They can also help employees successfully return to work if a physical or even mental health disability has kept them out for some time. The EEOC defines an accommodation as any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

Essential job functions are, well, essential – and required by the ADA – in helping employers identify those potential accommodations.

Those annual performance review can show if or how much a job may have changed over the years. Is it less physical due to technology? Have any anther responsibilities been added, such as proficiency in another language or new certifications? Can the job now be performed off-site? In fact, due to the pandemic, employees have proven that essential duties can be performed off-site. Remote work has been and will continue to be an effective accommodations, Heine says.

"There's a lot of jobs out there that nobody thought could be done from home. That's not the case anymore," Heine says.

So the answers to all of those questions can be best answered by employees and managers at the same time they are discussing goals. Managers can capture all of this during the review to update the essential duties.

"Jobs duties can change and who best to know that but the people who are doing it every day," Heine says.

Heine shares some pointers from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free and confidential technical assistance resource, to help employers identify essential job functions:

  • Does the job exist to perform the function?
  • Do a limited number of workers perform the function?
  • Is a specialized skill needed?

Beyond the do-it-yourself approach to essential duties, employers can also leverage the expertise of ergonomists, vocational rehabilitation specialists and other Return-to-Work professionals to help with ADA needs. There is also support for accommodating an employee due to mental health needs. As an ADA coach, certified rehabilitation counselor and ergonomic assessment specialist, Heine works closely with employers to help them keep employees on the job or return them to work as safely as possible.

So don't fear the annual review anymore. It's an efficient way to update job descriptions and stay compliant with the ADA. Who knows, it may just make the Top Ten Fun List – someday.

For more information on strategies for ADA accommodations Return-to-Work programs, The Hartford offers these 7 Steps to Building a Successful Return-to-Work Program.