The Cornell Just-in-Time Toolkit for Managers

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

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When performance might be due to a disability: Addressing the situation

An employee who is struggling

  • Keep an open mind; the performance issue may or may not be related to a disability.
  • Performance issues should always be addressed, whether or not the manager suspects the issue is related to a disability.

Prevent performance problems

  • When all employees know that they have a right to a reasonable accommodation, they are more likely to come forward before a performance problem arises.

Performance coaching is needed here, just like in any other situation

  • During a private conversation, discuss the concrete events that illustrate the performance issue.
  • Do not discuss or document your own beliefs about a possible disability.
  • Be clear about performance expectations.
  • Discuss the impact of the performance problem on team or business goals.

Let the employee tell you about the cause of the performance problem 

  • Ask the employee about anything they can tell you to help you understand the issue and provide support.
  • Then sit back and listen! 

If the employee now tells you about a disability, enter into a different conversation 

  • The employee can use plain English to tell you about a disability and accommodation need.
  • When the employee informs you of a disability, treat this as an accommodation request. Start the accommodation process by calling your local HR Manager or Medical Leaves Administration at 607.255.1177.

Put the performance review on hold for now

  • Plan to re-evaluate the employee’s performance after an accommodation has been put into place.

If the employee does not tell you about a disability, continue with performance coaching  

  • Continue to coach the employee and provide feedback as you would with any other employee with a performance issue.

If the employee first discloses a disability when a termination action has begun  

  • If the employee’s performance prior to his disclosure of a disability warrants termination under a uniformly and fairly applied policy, the termination can proceed.

Employees with disabilities perform as well as any other employee

  • Don’t automatically assume that disability is a performance problem.
  • Research shows that employees with disabilities perform as well as any other employee.