Employees and Applicants with Disabilities

William & Mary is dedicated to providing a welcoming, supportive community for employees with disabilities, and encourages individuals with disabilities to apply for jobs at the university.  

This guidance is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation Policy and the Employee Reasonable Accommodation Policy and Procedure by providing information about how W&M satisfies its obligation to make reasonable accommodations for employees (and applicants for employment) with disabilities.

This guidance has three sections: 

1.  What is a disability?  

2.  How do I respect the rights of people with disabilities in the hiring process?

3.  How do I respect the rights of employees with disabilities?  

Understanding Disabilities
The Employee Reasonable Accommodation Policy and Procedure define a disability as:
A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities.1  Major life activities means functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. The university’s determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity will be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as medication, medical supplies, equipment, appliances, or prosthetics, except for ordinary contact lenses and eyeglasses.
Under the policy and procedure, each impairment is examined to determine whether or not it constitutes a disability.  
  • Physical characteristics such as eye color, hair color, height, weight, or muscle tone that fall within a “normal” range and are not caused by a physiological disorder do not count as impairments. A predisposition to illness or disease is also not an impairment. 
  • Illegal drug use is not a disability.  Compulsive gambling, pyromania, kleptomania, and various sexual behavior disorders are not considered to be disabilities.
  • Pregnancy itself is not a disability, but pregnancy-related impairments may constitute a disability. 
  • An impairment that is episodic -- that comes and goes -- or that is in remission is a disability if it would constitute a disability when active.  Examples of impairments that may be episodic include bilpolar disorder, diabetes, hypertension, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and asthma. 
  • An impairment that is trivial or of short duration is not a disability.  Examples include a cold, the flu, or mild seasonal allergies.  
During the hiring (search and selection) process

  • No one can ask an applicant if he or she has a disability, under any circumstances. 
  • If an applicant requests an accommodation in the application process -- for example, asks to be interviewed in a wheelchair accessible location -- William & Mary must make reasonable accommodations to permit the applicant to participate in the process.  The Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity can help search committees or hiring officials handle requests for accommodation.  
  • If the hiring manager or search committee is aware that an applicant has a disability, either because the applicant disclosed it or it is an obvious disability, and there is a concern that the disability may limit or prevent the applicant in performing the job duties, keep the applicant in the applicant pool and consider him or her as all other applicants.  Contact the Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity for assistance.  The Office, at the appropriate stage of the hiring process, can work with the applicant to determine whether he or she can do the job with (or without) an accommodation.  
    • The applicant can be asked whether he or she can do the job, with (or without) reasonable accommodation.  
    • If an applicant indicates that he or she would require accommodation to do the job, William & Mary can ask what accommodation would be needed, and understand how the individual would be able to do the work with this accommodation. 
  • Under no conditions should an applicant be asked for medical records or medical information, except by the Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity. 
  • An applicant cannot be refused a job because he or she has a disability, unless the Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity determines:
    • The disability is such that he or she will not be able to perform the essential functions of the job, even with accommodations. 
    • The disability would result in a significant risk of substantial harm to the applicant or others, if the applicant were hired.   
During the employment relationship – working with current employees

  • W&M makes modifications and adjustments to jobs and job conditions to help employees with disabilities perform the job duties.  These modifications and adjustments are usually called “reasonable accommodations”.   Accommodations are authorized under the Employee Reasonable Accommodation Policy and Procedure.
  • We also make accommodations to help a person with a disability enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.   For example, we provide accommodations so that employees can participate in training (such as by providing sign language interpreters), access services generally available to employees, and participate in or attend official university functions and events.  
  • The appropriate accommodation is determined on a case-by-case basis, in an interactive process between the employee and W&M.  An accommodation only works if it allows the employee to perform the essential functions of a job.  Examples of accommodations include
    • Providing technical aids and devices, such as special computer keyboards or telephones.  In many cases, equipment or devices are considered personal need items, such as wheelchair or walker, and William & Mary is not required to provide these; however, if the need for the equipment is a work, not personal need, then it may be William & Mary’s responsibility. 
    • Modifying the workplace, such as through retrofitted entryways or special office furniture.  William & Mary generally is not required to modify existing worksites to make them accessible until a particular employee needs an accommodation. 
    • Modifying duties or hours of work, such as permitting telework, an alternate work schedule to allow for medical appointments, shifting minor duties to other employees, or allowing more frequent rest breaks.
    • Allowing service animals.   
  • Only the Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity can authorize an accommodation.  Supervisors may not come up with accommodations on their own.  The Office of Diversity & Equal Opportunity authorizes accommodations under the Employee Reasonable Accommodation Policy and Procedure.
  • Employees with disabilities are subject to the same performance and conduct expectation as all other employees.  But sometimes expectations as to how an employee performs his job – not how well, but the manner in which he or she gets the work done – will change in the accommodation process. 
  • If an employee reveals a disability after performance or conduct problems arise, W&M will work with the employee through the accommodation process, but we are not required to rescind or change past performance evaluations or disciplinary measures.  

Additional questions?  Review the collected resources for discrimination-related questions and services.