Five Things You Should Know When Returning to Work after a Traumatic Brain Injury
By Kathy Bubar, DRCNH Staff Attorney
Individuals who sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) typically have to make many adjustments in their lives as a result of their injury. Often, if the injury is severe, extended periods of rehabilitation are necessary before the individual can return to the life they had prior to the injury. Many individuals never fully regain the skills and functioning they had prior to the injury. However, with appropriate support and adequate accommodation, many people with TBI are able to return to work and be successful.
For someone with a traumatic brain injury, the thought of returning
to work or getting a job may seem overwhelming. However, there are a
number of things that will help make the process a little easier. They
1. Services available through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Ticket to Work and similar Programs.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) provides services to individuals with
disabilities who desire to return to the workplace. Their job is to remove
barriers to employment. VR counselors can provide job training, help
locate an appropriate position and help provide some of the needed support,
both on and off the job site that will increase the likelihood of success
on the job for their client. VR’s ability to assist people has
recently been helped by the Ticket to Work program. SSI and SSDI beneficiaries
now have “Tickets” authorized by the federal government to
choose a provider (called an Employment Network) to provide services
to help gain and maintain employment. For more information about the
Ticket to Work Program or VR, call 1-800-229-1647 (V/TTY)
2. Protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to persons with TBI and other individuals with qualifying disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act * is a federal law that provides protection to employees and job applicants with disabilities. If an individual with a brain injury has the required education, experience, credentials or license to qualify for an available job and is able to perform the essential functions of a job, with or without accommodations, the ADA prohibits the employer from treating that person differently from any other employee or applicant. If reasonable accommodations are needed in order for the employee to do the job and the employee requests them, the ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to that person.
3. What should individuals say to an employer about their brain injury?
If an applicant with a brain injury thinks that mentioning their disability
may hurt their chances of getting a job, do not have to mention the disability
during the interview or hiring process. After the person is hired, if
they feel they will need reasonable accommodations to perform the job,
they can mention their disability then.
4. What types of reasonable accommodations must an employer provide?
An employer is required to make reasonable accommodations that are necessary
to allow an employee to work successfully despite a disability. Generally,
the employer must change or adjust the job and the work environment so
that the individual with the disability is able to do the job. Reasonable
accommodations must be tailored to the individual. This is particularly
important for individuals with a brain injury where the affects vary
so widely over time and may impact one or more of the following: balance,
coordination, attention span, short or long term memory, stamina, ability
to speak clearly and the ability to control emotions. The accommodations
must be made available to the employee with the disability at no cost.
Some examples of the accommodations or adjustments that can be made include:
Remember that so long as the employee is able to the “essential functions of the job”, the employer must make accommodations that will allow the employee to function effectively despite any challenges that exist as the result of the injury.
If the individual is not yet employed or cannot go back to the previous employer, it is important to remember that the protections of the ADA also apply to job applicants. If accommodations are needed during the application process, the employer is obliged to provide those that are reasonable.
Reasonable accommodations must be provided during any pre-employment testing, during job training and during important meetings that employees are expected to attend, as well as on the actual job site. Such assistance as sign language interpreters are required if they are necessary for employees or trainees to participate in required training sessions and all accommodations are at the expense of the employer.
5. What are the remedies if an individual with a brain injury has complaints, feels discriminated against or that their rights are being denied?
a. ADA In addition to requiring that employers provide reasonable accommodations
and prohibiting discrimination based on an individual’s disability,
the ADA provides legal remedies if the employer fails to comply with
its requirements. This process begins with the employee talking talk
with your employer and stating their grievance. If the employer has a
grievance procedure in place, that procedure should be used.
c. The DRC or the Client Assistance Project (800-852-3405) may be contacted with concerns or complaints concerning VR, and the DRC for concerns or complaints regarding the Ticket to Work Program or the other programs listed under Question 1 above.
* The ADA protects individuals who have a physical or mental disability
or have a record of having a disability or are regarded as having a disability
which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as
walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, breathing or caring for
yourself from employment discrimination and applies to employers with
more than 15 employees. The ADA prevents employers from discriminating
based on a disability in all employment practices, including recruiting,
hiring, firing, training, promoting, determining job assignments, pay,
benefits, layoffs and any other employment related activity.
last updated: November 10, 2008
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