Broadcasting that an employee is receiving a reasonable accommodation could spell trouble for an employer. Employers are prohibited from disclosing that reasonable accommodations are being made for one employee to other employees because it violates the employee’s right to privacy. The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifically prohibits employers from disclosing medical information about an employee. This includes any disabilities that an employee is receiving a reasonable accommodation for. As a result, employers should be careful about what is said when answering questions about why one person may be receiving “special” treatment.
Generally, when one employee receives a reasonable accommodation, other employees will take notice, especially if the accommodation substantially changes the responsibilities or hours of the accommodated employee. This will inevitably raise eyebrows and questions that the employer will need to answer so that other employees do not feel as if they are being treated unfairly.
To answer these questions without divulging any private information about the accommodated employee, the employer should inform the inquiring employee that the employer has a policy regarding assisting employees who encounter difficulties in the workplace. The employer should also state that this policy respects the privacy of all employees and that personal information will not be disclosed.
It may be beneficial to n employer to provide general training on ADA reasonable accommodations so that questions will not be raised later. Informing employees about the requirements of ADA and the Family Medical Leave Act may prevent an uncomfortable conversation in the future. If employees are aware that employers are not able to disclose whether or why someone is receiving a reasonable accommodation, they may be less likely to ask.