Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), an employee with a disability can request a reasonable accommodation and the employer must provide an accommodation, unless it would cause an undue hardship. Once the employee requests the accommodation, the employer and employee must engage in an “interactive process.” What is the interactive process?
It doesn’t need to be a formal meeting or process; rather, it’s an informal attempt to clarify what the employee needs and what accommodation is most appropriate. This is probably best accomplished through face-to-face interaction, but it can also be done through phone conversations or written communication.
The important thing is that both the employer and employee work together to determine what changes can be made to adapt to the employee’s limitations or specific needs. This process requires open communication between the parties and a good-faith effort to identify a reasonable solution that is effective.
The Ninth Circuit has determined that the interactive process requires the following:
- Direct communication between the employer and employee to explore in good faith the possible accommodations;
- Consideration of the employee’s request; and
- Offering an accommodation that is reasonable and effective.
If an employer fails to engage in the interactive process when a reasonable accommodation would have been possible, then the employer may be liable for violating the ADA. In the end, the ideal outcome for both parties is to engage in a process that leads to an accommodation that improves the employee’s work situation, allowing the employee to perform in a way that also benefits the employer.