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Tips to Maintain a Compliant Disability Leave Process in Your Medical, Dental, or Optometry Practice

As an employer, you have many obligations to the people who work for you: To create a safe working environment, to protect them from discrimination or sexual harassment, and to ensure that their physical needs are met. Part of that process means you have to ensure that you give your team members what they need to physically perform their job. 

In some cases, that may mean creating a disability leave process. It may also mean creating accommodations that allow them to perform their duties despite disabilities.

This can be a challenging process, as it interacts with numerous state and federal laws. Fortunately, with proper legal and human resource vetting, it can be done. 

At HR for Health, we're here to help, and our team can help you create a disability process that protects your needs, while ensuring that your employees can fulfill their roles, despite any disability. 

What is a Disability Accommodation?

Disability accommodations are changes that you make to your dental, optometry, or other healthcare practice to ensure that anyone who works for you can perform their job duties, despite a disability they may suffer from. There are many examples of disability accommodations, including:

  • Purchasing equipment that allows a person to perform their job duties.
  • Allowing additional breaks during the day to manage certain physical issues, such as doctor appointments or pumping breast milk.
  • Working from home, if it still allows for the normal operation of job duties.
  • Creating separate office spaces on an as-needed basis.

A cornerstone of creating disability accommodations and a disability leave process is that the accommodations must be reasonable

You would never be expected to change job descriptions or qualifications to create an accommodation, nor would you be expected to spend massive

amounts of money to accommodate someone who could not manage required job duties otherwise. 

The challenge is that the definition of "reasonable" is open for debate. Fortunately, years of case law have helped create clarity about what the word “reasonable” means, and how your practice can be expected to adhere to it. 

What Factors Does My Practice Need to Keep in Mind?

Creating such a disability leave process and understanding what accommodations are required can be a complex process. There is no set way to create a disability leave process. Indeed, there are many potential avenues that you can travel if you want to create a process that best suits your needs while protecting the rights of your employees. 

However, there are a few things to keep in mind:

    • It is perfectly reasonable and appropriate to require your employee to provide medical documentation that explains the nature of their disability, any limitations that the employee may have, and what sort of accommodations they may require along with the duration of the disability.
    • An employee with a disability should specify - in writing - what barriers or limitations make it difficult for them to perform the job. Your practice can then conduct an investigation to determine what steps can be taken to make appropriate accommodations if it can be done without incurring an undue burden. Please note that the burden of proof is typically high for employers, so exercise caution if you choose to pursue the route of claiming that an accommodation imposes undue hardship on your practice.
  • It is within your rights to propose alternative accommodations to what your employee has requested.
  • This process is interactive. You should communicate clearly and in writing with your employee about their needs, and you should ensure that your employee does the same. 
  • An employee cannot be fired or forced to resign for seeking accommodations.
  • Be sure to request a revised doctor’s note if anything changes from the last note.
  • All medical leave can and should be tracked, as should any written communication. At HR for Hire, we can manage this within our system, tracking medical leave and any employee communications

What Do I Need to Do as an Employer?

There's no question about it: You need to create a disability leave process. This process should be reviewed by human resource experts — like those at HR for Health — or at least by people with specific knowledge of disability law. You need to ensure that your process is fair to both yourself and your employees, and meets any specific requirements of relevant state or federal law.

Don't have any employees with such a disability? You might in the future. Creating a disability leave process is vital now, before you have an employee who may have a disability and need reasonable accommodation. Doing so can protect your dental, optometry, other healthcare practice from future claims of discrimination. Also note that depending on your employee count and the state that you are in, you may be obligated to have a policy anyway.

Finally, it is also vital that you create a written disability leave process. Doing so can help provide documentation about the steps both you and your employee must take to create a reasonable accommodation. Your practice should have a handbook anyway, as it can help communicate expectations, set important processes in stone, and protect you from certain legal issues. If you need help creating such a handbook, contact HR for Health today.

Recommended Reading: 5 Key Policies in Every Employee Handbook

How HR for Health Can Help

Creating a disability accommodation process can be complicated. Fortunately, at HR for Health, we're here to help. We have years of experience in helping medical practices like yours set up a disability leave process in line with all applicable laws. Our on-hand experts can help you create a policy that meets your needs, and we can also answer any questions that come up in your practice.

Want more information? Connect with HR for Health today to set up a demo, and learn more about how we can help your practice protect itself. 


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