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Workplace Solutions

Americans with Disabilities Act - Providing Accommodations

Even if you aren't positive that an employee's issues amount to a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), don't worry about granting an employee's request for an accommodation if the accommodation is reasonable, helps the employee perform the essential functions of his/her position, and is not burdensome for the department. You should explain to the employee that you are granting the request because you understand that it will help him/her and that it is not a problem. You should also advise that if the situation changes or if there are further accommodation requests, he/she will be required to submit medical documentation, and you will have to consult with the University Human Resources Office of Employee Relations or the ADA coordinator to determine if this is a disability covered by the ADA. You should always check with Employee Relations or the ADA coordinator before you deny an employee an accommodation request.

Employment Equity

One of the best ways to improve retention is to make smart, well-informed employment decisions. When drafting a position description and advertisement, be sure to state accurately the skills required to perform the essential functions of the position. Review applications carefully and conduct in-person interviews of all finalists for the position. Though you may have known an applicant for years, he/she should be interviewed. There may be things about him/her of which you weren't aware, and wouldn't have discovered had you not seen the person in an interview situation. Always base your hiring decisions on the applicant's qualifications and experience, not simply on the idea that he/she might be a "good fit" in terms of how long you have known the applicant, pleasing personality traits, or other non-job-related factors. Always check references. Although traditional wisdom might suggest that a prospective employee would list only those references who would give the applicant a positive report, there are always surprises.

Explain Policies and Procedures

Supervisors are required to educate people under their supervision about the University's policies against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation as well as the EOP complaint procedures. Merely distributing the policies and procedures without discussing them is not sufficient. Supervisors should engage in interactive dialogue with the people they supervise on a regular basis to help them to understand their rights and responsibilities. EOP has classroom and online training available to help supervisors carry out this responsibility.

Proactive Prevention

There are countless benefits associated with preventive efforts and the use of educational training. For proactive prevention to be effective, it is essential that individuals understand their rights and responsibilities under the University's discriminatory harassment policy as well as the legal recruitment and selection processes. Individuals who know their rights and responsibilities will be better able to recognize discriminatory and/or retaliatory conduct and understand what actions to take to ensure such behaviors cease. It is equally important, if not more so, that those who have supervisory/management responsibilities have knowledge of information needed to critically assess whether their workplaces are inclusive and free of discrimination and discriminatory harassment. Supervisors and managers must also understand their responsibilities for correcting any discriminatory conduct.

To increase awareness and enhance understanding and knowledge in these ever-changing areas, it is strongly recommended that discriminatory harassment and search committee training be repeated at least every two years. Although University management and faculty are mandated to take discriminatory harassment training, best practices dictate that all faculty, staff, and students participate in these training programs. The same is true for the EOP faculty search committee training, currently required only of faculty search committee members and hiring officials. All those involved in the search and hiring process should participate in the training. Both of these training programs are available online via the EOP Web site, allowing convenient access to everyone at any time.

Document Complaints and Performance Issues

Typically, a person who has a complaint will meet with his/her supervisor or Human Resources liaison before filing with EOP. This likely will occur soon after the incident(s) complained of and will be the first time the complaint is discussed in detail. During this initial meeting, the supervisor or Human Resources liaison should thoroughly document the details of the complaint. If appropriate, the supervisor or Human Resources liaison should also request a written statement from the person. Please note, however, that a person in obvious emotional distress should not be pressed to provide a written statement. If a complaint is later filed with EOP, copies of notes from the initial meeting and the written statement, if available, should be provided to EOP.

Another type of documentation often becomes important in a complaint investigation-documentation of performance issues. Of course, supervisors should document such issues in accordance with Human Resources policies and procedures as they arise, and not upon a complaint filing. When performance issues are undocumented, the supervisor will have difficulty establishing in a complaint investigation that such issues motivated a termination or other adverse employment action. In addition, an employee who is not put on notice of performance issues is more likely to perceive discrimination/harassment as the cause of adverse employment actions.

Building a Culture of Dialogue and Inclusivity

When managers and supervisors are attempting to resolve a conflict involving employees of different cultures, they should consider the following:

  • Awareness of biases, assumptions, expectations: yours and those of the parties. How do these relate to the manner in which the conflict is being perceived and how the parties are interpreting it?
  • Understanding of conflict dynamics and personal messages about conflict. How does your experience of conflict relate to the way you are assessing this conflict? Where might your judgment be impaired by your previous experiences? Who can you contact to assist you in making your picture more complete?
  • Awareness of organizational, community, and other cultures. What messages have the parties received about conflict? What is their experience of responding to conflict? What are their unstated cultural expectations about conflict, communication, roles, and status? How does history relate to parties' behaviors and expectations?
  • Understanding conflict processes. What options are appropriate and available to address this conflict? Do these options take cultural variables into account, including setting, parties, timing, gender, communication norms, face-saving, and hierarchical and other sources of power? Does the process you are using address conflict at all levels?
  • —Adapted from Michelle LeBaron in Thriving Together: Building a Culture of Dialogue and Inclusivity

Strategies for Addressing Conflict

There are numerous options for resolving disputes. Included among those availably internally are informal facilitation, mediation, negotiated resolution, and formal complaint. Numerous external options are also available. Many factors will determine the most appropriate option, including the type of conflict, your relationship with the other party(ies), and the amount of time and money you are willing to spend. It is wise to start as informally as possible, progressing to more formal options only as necessary. Such a strategy increases the chance that a resolution will be achieved promptly and efficiently. The tips listed below are also productive in resolving conflicts.

  • Select an appropriate time and place
  • Listen actively
  • Ask clarifying questions
  • Imagine yourself in the other person's position
  • Be assertive, but also civil and respectful
  • Focus on the issue(s)
  • Remember that tone of voice and body posture speak volumes
  • Be specific and realistic about desired outcomes
  • Validate the other person's feelings and opinions
  • Communicate about behaviors and conduct, not attitudes or personalities
  • Be willing to compromise