Streamline ADA leave accommodation requests in Cocoon

Build a more inclusive workplace, stress less about compliance with ADA leave requests in Cocoon.

Frank Alvarez
Frank Alvarez
Founding Legal Counsel
Streamline ADA leave accommodation requests in Cocoon

It seems like just a few weeks ago we shared our 5 newest launches—probably because it was just a few weeks ago. And yet, here we are again, with another big update. This one goes out to all the folks who’ve asked for more comprehensive ADA support. Today, we’re excited to announce our new product experience that initiates and streamlines the process of considering leave as an ADA accommodation—it takes the guesswork out of a notoriously complex process for employees and People teams alike. 

This new functionality enables employees to request an ADA leave accommodation right from their Cocoon Dashboard and then drives interaction with their employer, who reviews and ultimately approves or denies the request. These workflows save People teams time and stress by providing employees easy and reliable access to a legally required interactive process to request leave as an ADA accommodation. Here’s why it’s a big deal: 

What is the ADA and why is it important?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that was passed in 1990 and prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in many aspects of society—including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services. And for 34 years since, People teams have been struggling to navigate how to offer leave as an accommodation while staying compliant and providing a good user experience (for both People teams and employees). To add even more complexity, most states and many municipalities have their own laws that are closely modeled after the ADA. 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADA’s employment provisions. They apply to companies with 15 or more employees and prohibit discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.  

One form of ADA discrimination is failing to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the ways things are usually done to enable employees with disabilities to work. To deny accommodations, employers must show undue hardship, which means significant operational difficulty or expense. Determining whether leave is a reasonable accommodation or an undue hardship requires an individualized, case-by-case assessment. To make this assessment, employers must engage in an interactive dialogue with employees and, if necessary, their health care providers. In some cases, pregnancy-related impairments can also be ADA disabilities. 

When is leave a required ADA accommodation?

This is where things get complicated! A reasonable accommodation can include modifying existing leave policies and providing leave even when an employer does not offer leave to other employees (EEOC). But there is no rule that says an employer must always provide leave as an accommodation. It depends on the facts of each situation (hence the case-by-case assessment)—How much time does the employee need? Is the leave sought for a definite or indefinite duration? Will the leave be continuous or intermittent? Has the employee already taken leave? The list goes on… and on and on. To add another layer of complexity for employers, they must integrate ADA with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was passed three years after the ADA in 1993, plus state family and medical leave laws.  

The FMLA covers employers with 50 or more employees and provides medical leave rights to employees who meet certain eligibility criteria such as tenure (12 months) and work hours (1,250 hours in the 12-month period immediately preceding leave). Because employers must provide leave under both the FMLA and ADA, the challenge is knowing when and how to do so. For example, if an employee can take FMLA leave, they don’t need ADA leave as a reasonable accommodation. But if employees need medical leave and they are not eligible for or have exhausted FMLA leave, the ADA suddenly becomes front and center and employers must consider providing unpaid, job-protected leave as an ADA reasonable accommodation (if  providing the leave doesn’t cause undue hardship).

Streamline ADA leave accommodation requests in Cocoon

Although ADA leave requests may not be frequent, when they do come up, they are often confusing and time consuming. Not to mention, there’s a lot of risk involved. The EEOC keeps statistics on the number and types of discrimination charges it receives and their most recent data shows that after retaliation, disability discrimination is the most frequently filed form of employment discrimination. Last year more than 25,000 charges were filed, making up 34% of all EEOC discrimination charges (!!) 

Ok, after all that heavy compliance talk, here’s the good news: Cocoon’s got you covered. Our new leave accommodation experience saves People teams time and streamlines the interactive process by pulling some of the most disjointed pieces of the process together in product:

Employee leave accommodation request experience 

Employees can request leave as an accommodation in Cocoon when either they 1) have exhausted all available time under FMLA, state laws, and company policy, or 2) they are not eligible for FMLA, state laws, or company policies to begin with. Cocoon will then collect sufficient information and documentation from the employee regarding the nature of the request. 

People team leave accommodation request experience 

After the employee submits the leave accommodation request and requested information, Cocoon will surface this information in the Employer Admin Dashboard. Once an Employer Admin has reviewed the request, they can approve it, deny it, or request additional information directly in Cocoon.

By automating the request, review, and approval workflows for ADA requests, People teams don’t have to worry about missing key steps and opening themselves up to risk.

“When it comes to the ADA, the interactive process is equally if not more important than the result employers reach.”
- Frank Alvarez, Cocoon founding legal counsel

"When it comes to the ADA, the interactive process is equally if not more important than the result employers reach. We expect this new tool will substantially improve both employee and employer leave accommodation experiences," says Frank Alavrez of Cocoon. "Our software identifies the instances when employees have no sources of medical leave under the FMLA, state law or company policies, and then initiates workflows that allow employees to easily request leave as an ADA accommodation. Employers immediately view and approve or deny employee requests, or ask for more information or supporting medical documentation. Our team has been interested in tackling this issue for a while and we are super excited about this launch.”   

Build a more inclusive workplace, stress less about compliance

Cocoon’s mission is to empower every working person to focus on the important things in life when it matters most—this is absolutely inclusive of workers with disabilities who have every right to the same opportunities as everyone else. Disability discrimination laws are not getting any easier to administer, and they aren’t going away. Last year the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was passed, and it enacts a new set of protections for pregnant workers that employers must comply with on top of everything we’ve already talked about. Workers deserve these rights, and People teams deserve solutions that help them streamline the process. We’re excited to usher in a new era of more inclusion and accessibility for Cocoon, especially as we continue to expand on this functionality.

It's time to enter the next generation of employee leave