You may be familiar about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was approved into law last 1990 and once amended since then. The ADA is a very important civil rights law as it prohibits any form of discrimination against persons with disabilities all over the United States.
The extensive Americans with Disabilities Act outlines minimum standards which commercial buildings, offices, public places, schools, state and local offices, and even employers should follow. ADA requires that public spaces can accommodate people with a given disability without posing difficulty or harm to them. These standards range from wider spaces in public restrooms to adjusting operations in order to properly communicate with a customer who may be visually or hearing impaired.
Many changes have taken place since this law was approved. Its main goal is to provide equal opportunities for people with disabilities – whether it be in education, employment, state or federal agency services, and everything in between.
Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination in the work environment, on the basis of a disability. Employers are then required to engage in an interactive process to prevent employee discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations. Since the ADA is a law, liabilities and penalties await employers who do not comply.
ADA requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees.” Reasonable accommodation is defined as assistance or change to a position or workplace to accommodate applicants or employees with disabilities so they can do their designated job without causing undue hardship onto the employer.
Determining Reasonable Accommodation according to the ADA Interactive Process
There is an ADA interactive process that will help in determining the appropriate reasonable accommodate to cater to the individual with a disability. This interactive process involves both the employer and employee to communicate properly and in good faith to explore any accommodation request options that can be done.
Employers that engage in the interactive process should move forward with integrity to really listen to the employee needs and employee requests. Similarly, the applicant or employee with disability shall also act in good faith to comply with the interactive process and their requested accommodation.
Steps to Comply with the ADA Interactive Process
As the two parties engage in the interactive process, there are important steps to be followed.
Below, we will outline the important information about the steps in the ADA interactive process for your quick reference.
Step 1: Recognize the Accommodation Request.
The employee must indicate that they are having a problem in relation to their medical condition. It is given that this condition or disability is a hindrance to the employee to perform the essential functions of their job. Any notice about the employee s disability shall be received with no discrimination or prejudice in the workplace.
Afterwards the employer can make considerations. The employer must now discern whether that is a request for a (reasonable) accommodation.
Employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation in the workplace may include the following:
- The employee needing to take time off, but is not eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).
- The employee has exhausted their FMLA leave but needs more time off.
- The employee used medical reasoning to explain absences or professional shortcomings (ex: unable to focus due to medication, physically exhausted, and similar symptoms).
Step 2: Gather Pertinent Information.
The employee is required to provide documentation about their (covered) disability and any limitations from their healthcare provider. This step is essential for both parties to gauge if the job is appropriate for the employee, and if there is any need for requested accommodation.
Meanwhile, the employer must specify the exact information they need from their employee’s healthcare provider and most importantly, they should review the employee’s essential job functions. Analyzing the job description alongside the employee’s disability is crucial as it will help the employer determine if the job functions will be affected in any way by the employee’s disability and/or limitations. Of course, employers may respectfully request further information if needed, such as employment history. They are also welcome to ask or make requests for other documentation related but not limited to the individual’s employment.
Step 3: Explore Accommodation Options and Choose One Accommodation as per the Employee s Request.
Employers must look into the request for accommodation made in the past. This may require some time and research to look into previous cases.
Employers may require the employee and their healthcare provider to submit accommodation suggestions or further medical information. This will help in finalizing the effective accommodations to be made – ideally, one that would allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job without discrimination because of their disability.
To ensure that proper accommodations would be made, the employers may need to conduct an undue hardship analysis. This analysis must be based on an individualized assessment of the current circumstances that show that a specific reasonable accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense (on the part of the employer). Below are some considerations the employer may look into:
- nature and cost of the accommodation needed
- overall financial and human resources of the employer and the facility in which they belong
- size, type, and location of the facility
- type of operation (including structure and functions), geographical data, administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility to the employer
- impact of the accommodation on the facility’s operations
At this point, if more than one effective reasonable accommodation applies, then the employer may choose the accommodation with this one exception – which is to put the employee on leave. If there is another choice of possible accommodations that would enable the individual to work and perform the functions of the job, then the employer cannot require that the individual will go on leave.
Note: If the employee has FMLA available, generally they are allowed to choose to take leave rather than accept transfer to another job.
Common Mistakes in the Interactive Process of the ADA
The employer or supervisor is mandated by law to engage in this interactive process before determining whether an effective accommodation is available. Deciding on this reasonable accommodation the employer can provide is an extensive back-and-forth discussion among the important parties.
Refusing to engage in these discussions or showing any discrimination may be taken against them as it is a violation of the ADA. For example, below are some common mistakes that a supervisor can make if they fail to administer the interactive process in good faith.
- Uncertainty and resistance. Sometimes, the interactive process should be started as soon as the employee expresses any difficulty about the position in relation to their disability. Should their supervisor dismiss any claims or requests for accommodations – a clear violation of ADA and even labor code guidelines – employees with disabilities may experience further discrimination. So it is very important to be cooperative from the start.
- Inadequate training. The employer may not be well-equipped to administer the interactive process or even receive the accommodation request. It is not necessarily their fault but it may pose a hindrance to the interactive process. To address this, they may work closely with HR.
- Complicating the process. When the employee comes forward with their needs and requests, the supervisor should first look for a quick, simple, and easy solution to use. Oftentimes there is a quick fix that can address their concerns if the supervisor is willing to allow it. But if there is none, then the formal ADA process may be started in close coordination with the employee and HR.
- Sharing or requesting too much information. Supervisors may be mistaken in disclosing medical information to co-workers or other parties not involved in the interactive process. They should be careful to keep everything confidential. Likewise, they should only focus on information they can use to determine the disability and the need for accommodation.
The interactive process as required by the ADA sounds complicated, but it does not have to be. ADA was designed to prohibit discriminations against the individual with a disability so their co-workers should honor this and follow through.
For further information about the interactive process, you may visit the ADA website https://www.ada.gov/