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Providing Reasonable Accommodations to Employees With Disabilities- The Interactive Process

Employment lawyers often receive telephone calls and become involved in lawsuits relating to what an employer must do once an employee is deemed disabled or is put on light duty work restrictions by a health care provider.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations (or changes to the employee’s workplace or job) to employees with disabilities. To effectuate such accommodations, employers are required to engage in a good-faith, interactive process with the employee to determine the precise limitations created by the employee’s disability and what, if any, reasonable accommodations can be made to enable the employee to continue working. Employers are not required to provide accommodations that create an undue hardship on the employer, such as those accommodations that require significant time and/or expense. Accordingly, while an employee might not be entitled to all of the accommodations that they request, an employer may not summarily dismiss the proposed accommodations without first engaging in a good-faith exploration of the efficacy of and alternatives to the proposed accommodations.

Employers can demonstrate a good-faith attempt to engage in the interactive process by meeting face-to-face with the employee, requesting information about the employee’s alleged limitations (including notes from health care providers relevant to the accommodation at issue that relate to the employee's ability to perform his or her job), considering the employee’s requests, and discussing alternatives to a request if the request requires significant time and/or expense. After engaging in the interactive process with an employee about a reasonable accommodation, an employer should memorialize the conversation in a memo to the employee.

Employers should be mindful that the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations is ongoing. An employer may be required to provide more than one accommodation to an individual employee, and the employer may be required to provide a different accommodation if the nature of employee’s disability changes.

So the next time an employee comes to you with work restrictions or a disability, do not summarily terminate the employee's employment because you cannot accommodate the restrictions. Engage in the interactive process with the employee to determine alternative arrangements that may permit the employee to return to work without any undue hardship on the company.