In situations like these, a manager may suspect that a disability could be impacting job performance, but the employee hasn’t told the manager he has a disability. What are the issues a manager needs to think through in addressing situations where they suspect a disability may be impacting performance or conduct?
All employees need feedback when their performance is not meeting expectations and all performance or conduct problems need to be clearly documented. This is the case whether or not a manager suspects that a performance problem is due to a disability. As soon as a performance issue becomes apparent, managers should do what they would do for any employee: hold a private, confidential conversation with the employee to address the issue in a clear and objective manner.
Performance issues need to be documented with clear and concrete descriptions of events and behaviors that indicate a performance issue. Managers should not document suspicions around disability in these files even if you think that the disability is contributing to the performance issue.
During a performance conversation:
Whether or not a disability is a cause of the performance problem, knowing the employee’s take on the issue is a key part of addressing the problem. Pose the following two powerful questions—questions you would pose for anyone having a performance issue. Then, sit back and LISTEN.
When an employee discloses a disability, the situation and the conversation changes. No matter how the employee tells a manager about a disability (whether in medical terms or in plain English), the employer is now on notice that the accommodation process needs to be set in motion. The performance review should be placed on hold until an accommodation is put into place.
Employees with disabilities can be held accountable for their performance and conduct at work and can be disciplined or put on a performance improvement plan just like any other employee. Disciplinary or performance improvement actions taken before the employer was informed of the need for an accommodation do not have to be rescinded once this need is known. But further disciplinary actions should be put on hold until an accommodation is in place.
As a manager, are you considering taking action such as a performance improvement plan, a reprimand or a termination? First, contact your local HR Manager or Cornell’s Medical Leaves Administration at 607.255.1177. It’s important to ask yourself this question. Have you ever been informed that the worker has a disability that impacts her job functioning? Or is there a reasonable belief that the employee might need an accommodation (such as a person who uses a wheelchair needing an accommodation to reach higher shelving).
Employees who first inform their manager of a disability in response to a termination action can still be held accountable for their prior performance and conduct. If this termination action is based on an existing performance or conduct code that is job-related and consistent with business necessity and is being applied fairly to all employees, the termination action can continue. In other words, if the employee’s performance prior to disclosing a disability would warrant termination for any employee, then this action would be justified for an employee with a disability. Before taking any termination action in this situation contact your local HR Manager or Cornell’s Medical Leaves Administration at 607.255.1177.
Too often, managers assume that disability automatically means performance deficits. Yet, research tells us that employees with disabilities perform as well as any other employee (DePaul University, 2007). Like anyone else, some workers with disabilities will be excellent performers; others not so much. A key job of a manager is to coach each employee (including those who have disabilities) so they can contribute 100% of their talents to your department or unit goals.
When all employees know that they can request an accommodation when a disability arises, they are more likely to make this request before a disability impacts their job performance. Build a culture of trust within your team and workplace to ensure that employees who need accommodations feel safe in coming forward to discuss their needs before a performance issue arises.
DePaul University and Disability Works (2007). Exploring the Bottom Line: A Study of the Costs and Benefits of Workers with Disabilities. Released January 28, 2007. Accessed at http://bbi.syr.edu/_assets/staff_bio_publications/McDonald_Exploring_the....