Benefits

The Wrong Way to Engage in the ADA Interactive Process

By Jon Hyman

Sep. 29, 2014

Upon attempting to return from a medical leave of absence, an employee requests the following accommodations: an ergonomic chair, adjusted lighting in her office, and a part-time schedule for the next eight days. Instead of providing the accommodations, or even discussing their availability, the employer refuses to permit the employee to return to work, instead telling her not to return until it was with no restrictions or accommodations. The company later fires the employee (seven days after she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge challenging the failure-to-accommodate), telling her that she failed to engage in the interactive process.

These are the facts of the latest Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit filed by the EEOC. If the facts, as the EEOC alleges, are true, this case seems like a slam dunk for the agency.

Once an employer becomes aware of the need for a reasonable accommodation, the ADA obligates it to engage in an interactive process with the employee to identify and implement appropriate reasonable accommodations. That process requires communication and good-faith exploration of possible accommodations. An employer cannot dismiss, without discussion, accommodations proposed or requested by the employee. The employee might not be entitled to a requested or preferred accommodation, but he or she is entitled to a good-faith exploration of their possibility.

In this case, it appears that the employer did the exact opposite of what the ADA requires of it, and, to make matters worse, blamed the employee for the breakdown of the interactive process when later firing her on the heals of her EEOC charge. 

This employer is going to learn an expensive lesson about the reasonable accommodation process. Perhaps you can learn something from its apparent mistakes.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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