When It All Comes Down To The Supervisor

Submitted by Guest Blogger on Wed, 02/06/2019

In the last few months the USOR Business Relations team in Utah has run into a number of circumstances where the retention of employment for an individual with a disability came down to a supervisor’s understanding of disability issues, accommodations, or simply a supervisory change.  In the world of Business Relations, we often work to engage a company owner, the HR Department or a business’s Diversity Manager. We always offer support to their teams to spread the information. But, it often ends up that the business decides to pass the information down through their own internal systems. We often find that information is not disseminated. Sometimes the supervisors or direct managers have prejudice or incorrect information. They cannot adequately support and retain an individual with a disability.  We have seen previously agreed upon accommodations being disregarded or taken away without consult. And, in some cases individuals are struggling with supervisors disclosing information to the employee’s colleagues without approval or hours are being reduced with no justification.

Often the ability of an employee to do their job well and feel like a true member of a team comes down to a supervisor. How can we provide assistance and information if our communication is only with top level HR or management and not with supervisors?

We continue to make slow steady process with our business partners in Utah.  Our efforts are not just a “one-and-done” approach. We have better outcomes and success with our consistent business partners than with business we have only worked with once or have never worked with.  We work to build relationships and offer continued training and support. This doesn’t always mean that the efforts a business is making are perfect, but it does mean that the business partner knows where to go when they have questions. They know that we don’t offend easily, and we want them to come to us with their tough questions. 

In Utah, our Employer Workshop is now on its 26th event and 12th year.  We invite business partners, as well as supervisors and managers.  We educate our partners on creating a culture of disability inclusion. This includes:

  • Establishing Employee or Business Resource Groups (ERG/BRG);
  • Sharing disability information in newsletters;
  • Posting information in breakrooms, like information about Mental Health Awareness Month or advertising that there is a team doing the MS Bike Race;
  • Opening up conversation about various disabilities;
  • Hosting a Disability Mentoring event to expose their teams to youth with a variety of disabilities;
  • Attending the Work Ability Career Preparation and Job Fair to share opportunities and gain more exposure to disability as a whole;
  • And, participating in Disability:IN Utah, the local affiliate of Disability:IN

In any case, when a person with a disability runs into issues with supervision, accommodation or disclosure ADA violations are possible. Some recommendations to help avoid these situations are:

  • Keep track of accommodations, both formal and informal, pass that information on to new supervisors;
  • Educate supervisors on how to recognize an accommodation request. An employee doesn’t need to use those words specifically;
  • Require new supervisors/managers to notify the employee and upper level management prior to making any changes to policy or procedure;
  • Remind employees that they can ask for accommodations if needed and have a policy;
  • Do not remove existing accommodations before considering new accommodations. A supervisor should never remove or deny an accommodation without thorough investigation as to the implementation of the accommodation.  Remember ADA rules about requesting medical information;
  • Have a specific person who is responsible for overseeing accommodations, be sure to remind ALL employees on who that person is;
  • Educate new supervisors and managers on the ADA, find local, regional and national resources.  Including JAN, statewide Business Relations teams, and the Rocky Mountain ADA Center!

Most important in all of this is to develop relationships and partnerships.  Whether you are a business who is looking to increase your diversity and disability hiring and retention, or if you are a professional in the disability field, relationships are the key to success and further education and understanding.


Written by: Leah Lobato, Utah State Office of Rehabilitation

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