How to Ensure Employee Evaluations Keep Accessibility In Mind

Published April 11, 2023

It’s time for annual evaluations. You schedule each meeting, think back on the year, plan what to say, and then you remember — your next employee has an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation. You met with them and Human Resources this past year to figure out what accommodations the workplace could provide for their disability. They’ve turned in such great work that you forgot all about it. 

How are you supposed to give them their evaluation now?

Don’t panic! In a perfect world, an employee’s accommodation would have no bearing on their evaluation — and legally, it cannot have any bearing on the evaluation. However, there may be some things to take into consideration while giving your evaluation. Here’s how to ensure you stay within the boundaries of the law and keep your evaluations fair.

Ensure an equitable approach

Whether your employee’s accommodation is working remotely or having a service dog, the point of their accommodation is to provide an equitable working environment. Therefore, when you prepare your employee’s evaluation, you must also approach it equitably. This doesn’t just mean you ignore the existence of the accommodation — for many reasons, that may not be equitable as well. But being equitable means you do not draw needless attention to the accommodation, nor do you attribute your employee’s successes or failures to their accommodation.

For example, if your employee has had perfect attendance all year, it would not be appropriate to say something like, “You have had perfect attendance, which is expected given that you are working from home.” This is unfair and trivializes the effort your employee has given to their attendance and work throughout the year. It also gives the impression that you regard their ADA accommodation as a means for them to have it “easier” at work, instead of what it is: a means to an equitable work environment. 

Instead, acknowledge your employee’s perfect attendance just like you would any other employee — thank them for their contributions, loyalty, and hard work for the company and let them know it’s valued and appreciated. With or without accommodations, employees still work hard!

Educate yourself

Do not go into your evaluation meeting without bringing yourself up-to-speed on your employee’s accommodations. Not knowing exactly what they need and why they need it, especially when speaking to them face-to-face, would be a sign of poor management. Take the time to refresh yourself on their accommodations by reviewing your ADA meeting notes or, even better, researching the accommodation your employee requested. 

Going into the evaluation knowledgeable goes a long way in establishing trust between your employee and yourself. In a situation with an employee who has accommodations, having trust in his or her manager is a great asset and can bridge a lot of gaps that can sometimes happen in asking for accommodations. You also will avoid the embarrassment of seeming ignorant or uncaring about your employee’s situation. 

At the same time, do not spend a great deal of time talking about your employee’s accommodation unless strictly necessary. The point of the meeting is about your employee’s work performance, not the ADA accommodation. Be sure to continue to stick to relevant facts in your meeting. 

Be accurate

Do not give your employee preferential treatment. The ADA requires that “an employer allow a disabled person to compete equally with the rest of the world” and does not state that employers must give people with disabilities higher priority than others in any situation. When it comes to employee evaluations, you must maintain accuracy, even if your employee has been turning in subpar work. Do not let the fact that your employee has accommodations prevent you from giving an honest, fair assessment of their performance. 

If an employee is working from home and their productivity has dropped, it would not be inappropriate to point this out. When accommodations are granted, it is held that they are reasonable and do not cause undue hardship to you, the employer. A drop in productivity, which may place a heavier burden on coworkers, constitutes undue hardship, and you should bring this up. 

Accuracy goes hand in hand with being equitable. You cannot have a fair, equitable approach without being accurate. 

Conclusion

When approaching evaluations of an employee who has ADA accommodations, you must remember to treat them like any other employee. Provide an equitable, accurate analysis of their work performance without putting an unnecessary focus on their accommodation. The ADA mandates that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as people without disabilities, and this includes their annual or semiannual evaluations. 

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