The interactive process is used to determine whether an effective and reasonable accommodation is available for an employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The interactive process is required and simply means the employee with a disability and the employer work together to determine an accommodation.
ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on business operations. An accommodation is considered an undue hardship if it is significantly difficult or expensive for the employer. Whether an accommodation for a person with a disability is reasonable or unreasonable will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Responding to requests
According to the EEOC, an individual doesn’t have to use ADA terminology for a request to be considered under the ADA. As explained on the Ask Jan website, any time an employee indicates that he/she is having a problem and the problem is related to a medical condition, the employer should consider whether the employee is making a request for accommodation under the ADA. When this happens, the employer and employee should engage in an informal process to clarify what the employee needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.
If the employee’s disability and accommodation are obvious, it is not necessary to go through a detailed process. However, it is still important to document the solution. This documentation should include the following:
- Identified disability
- Requested accommodation
- Accommodation to be made as identified by the employer
A follow-up consists of engaging the employee in a conversation to review the accommodation and its effectiveness. If an accommodation is not successful, the employer and employee can engage in the interactive process to make a determination for an appropriate adjustment.
When the accommodation is not easily identified or obvious, it is necessary to take the following steps:
- Confirm existence of a disability as defined by the ADA
- Assess whether the disability substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Determine the job purpose and essential functions
- Consult with the employee to ascertain the precise job-related limitations imposed by the disability and how those limitations could be overcome with a reasonable accommodation
- Brainstorm accommodations and the effectiveness of each with the employee
- Consider the preferences of the employee
- Choose the accommodation most appropriate for the employer and allows the employee to perform the essential functions of the job
A Sample ADA Accommodation Documentation Form can be found in the HR Library (myTASB login required) including points to remember when engaging in the interactive process.
When possible accommodations are identified, the employer, not the employee, chooses the appropriate accommodation. For example, if there are two possible reasonable accommodations, and one costs more or is more difficult to provide, the employer may choose the one that is less expensive or easier to provide, as long as it is effective.
Reasonable accommodations may include the following:
- Making facilities readily accessible and usable
- Reallocating or redistributing duties to another position or person
- Altering when or how an essential function is performed
- Adjusting work schedules to permit part-time or modified schedules
- Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
- Modifying or adjusting examinations, training materials, or policies
- Providing qualified readers or interpreters
- Providing unpaid leave
TASB HR Services often receives questions from members regarding the need to provide additional leave once an employee has exhausted all leave. Additional unpaid leave may be reasonable as long as it is not for an indefinite period of time. An unknown return date would make this request unreasonable. Applying a fair and consistent timeframe for a reasonable leave extension is important and will help to manage this type of accommodation.
When a request for an accommodation is made, the employer may require an employee to provide medical documentation to establish a covered disability, that an accommodation is needed, and to help determine effective accommodation options. The employer may not request or require additional documentation unrelated to establishing the existence of a disability and the necessity for accommodation. Appropriate heath care providers include, doctors (including psychiatrists), psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, vocation rehabilitation specialists, and licensed mental health professionals.
HR should oversee the interactive process, but supervisors should be trained on recognizing when an employee is making an accommodation request. The employer has no obligation to make an accommodation if it is not aware of the need. An employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation does not have to be a formal request that mentions the ADA or uses the phrase “reasonable accommodation”. All the employee is required to do is let the supervisor know he or she needs an adjustment for a reason related to a physical or mental condition. Requests need not be in writing, but the supervisor should document the request in a memorandum or an employer form and send it to HR.
The ADA requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation as needed. If no solution is available, it is in the employer’s best interest to show it explored accommodation options by documenting the process followed and considerations made. Remember, all employees must be treated fairly and consistently when considering an ADA accommodation. Personal opinions or quality of an employee’s performance can’t interfere with the employer’s decision to engage in the interactive process.
Tools and resources
The following documents can be found in the HR Library (myTASB login required) and may be helpful in managing ADA accommodations and the interactive process.
Americans with Disabilities Act Requirements
ADA Compliance Checklist
Sample ADA Accommodation Documentation Form
Interactive Process Guide
Additional information can be found on the following websites:
Karen Dooley is a senior HR consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Karen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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