ada25The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers with 15 or more employees to engage in an “interactive process” once the employer becomes aware of a need to accommodate an employee disability.

A recent appellate court ruling in a disability dispute has shed new light on the requirements for both employers and employees when it comes to accommodating disabilities.

In that case, EEOC v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc., the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court ruling that an employee failed to engage in the interactive process, leading to a ruling in favor of her employer, Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc.

The employee, Pamela Manning, had requested a consistent daytime schedule because erratic shifts were aggravating her diabetes.

Kohl officials responded that they couldn’t agree to consistent daytime shifts, but informed the employee, Pamela Manning, that they were willing to discuss alternatives. Stating that she had “no choice but to quit,” Manning left and refused further contact with anyone at Kohl’s.

Because of Manning’s failure to engage in the interactive process, the court ruled in Kohl’s favor in a suit filed on Manning’s behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). On appeal, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in Kohl’s favor.

So what’s involved in the interactive process? A statement by an employee that he or she is having a problem performing his or her job because of a medical condition is sufficient to constitute an accommodation request. That triggers the interactive process, which may include the following:

  1. An analysis of the job involved to determine its essential functions.
  2. Clarification of the individual’s needs in order to identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.According to the EEOC’s enforcement guidance policy, the employer may ask questions concerning the nature of the disability and the individual’s functional limitations in order to identify an effective accommodation.
  3. The employer also may request medical documentation to verify the existence of a disability and the need for accommodation. Such medical documentation must be kept confidential, and be kept separate from the employee’s personnel file.
  4. Working together, the employer and the employee should identify a range of possible accommodations that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job.
  5. Employers get to choose among effective accommodation options. In addition, the employer does not have to agree to an accommodation that presents an “undue hardship” for the company. The employee, in turn, can refuse to accept an offered accommodation.
  6. Once an accommodation is in place, it should be monitored. For example, a piece of equipment may need to be maintained, or software may need updated. And procedures may need to be changed as the workplace changes.

If you have questions or concerns about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, contact Johnson Employment Law for guidance, 949-238-8044.