The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

Tips, checklists, and resources to help managers lead a disability inclusive workforce.

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An employee just told me about a disability. What do I do now?

Get the ball rolling

  • To find out more about Cornell’s disability resources, see Tool #10 of this Toolkit.
  • To initiate a disability accommodation request, contact Cornell’s Medical Leaves Administration at 607.255.1177 or visit Disability Accommodations.

As you would do for any employee facing a challenge, be a good coach

  • Acknowledge our commitment to diversity, including disability inclusiveness.
  • Listen to the employee’s take on their situation.
  • Stay focused on the work instead of going into detail about the medical condition.
  • Appreciate the employee’s coming forward and discuss next steps.

Do they have a “disability” under the law?

  • Yes, if their condition substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walk, sleeping, hearing, seeing, interacting with others, etc.) or bodily systems (such as cognitive function, normal cell growth, or endocrine functions).
  • Yes, if their condition is expected to last more than several months.

And what does this mean? 

  • The employee has a right to a disability accommodation.
  • The interactive process to find a disability accommodation must be set into motion.
  • A manager cannot tell co-workers about a disability.
  • Generally, all employees should know that they can request a change in how things are done if this is needed because of a medical or disability issue.

What employee remarks should be seen as an accommodation request?

  • If an employee’s remark shows that she has a health condition that is likely to last longer than a few weeks and that impacts her job, this should be viewed as an accommodation request. 
  • Contact Cornell’s Medical Leaves Administration office to determine if this is the case and to discuss next steps. 

What if I believe there is a direct threat or safety concern? 

  • Make sure there is clear, credible evidence for a safety concern (Fears based on vague “what if” situations are not valid safety concerns.)
  • Examples of valid safety concerns include: An employee who is visibly drowsy whose job involves driving; an employee who has threatened others with violence; an employee who shows symptoms of a medical emergency.
  • Examples of situations which are not a credible direct threat: An employee who simply has a history of mental illness; an employee who is HIV positive; an employee with a seizure disorder whose symptoms are well-controlled with medication and whose job does not involve tasks for which a potential seizure could pose a danger.

What’s the difference between disability disclosure and self-identification of disability?

  • Disability disclosure is when an employee tells you directly that they have a health condition that impacts their job, this should be treated as an individual disclosure and should trigger the disability accommodation process. Contact Cornell’s Medical Leaves Administration office to get the process started.
  • Employees may choose to voluntarily self-identify as a person with a disability by completing a form for this purpose. The purpose of this form is to track our progress toward including individuals with disabilities in our workforce. Employees should be encourage by managers to fill out this form, but managers should not see the information on their completed forms. Self-Identification should not be tied to the employee, but rather is a data point for the organization.

 About veterans 

  • At Cornell, we value the contribution veterans can make to our university, including veterans with disabilities. 
  • When a veteran comes forward with a disability, thank them for their trust and assure them that the accommodation process will be put into place.
  • Begin by referring the veteran to the Medical Leaves Administration office and Cornell's Military Community resources page.
  • In a few days, check back to make sure they are on the road to getting an accommodation and the support they need.