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Engage with Employees: Exploring ADA Accommodations Together

DC Employment Lawyers Note:

Navigating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) demands employers to offer reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Essential to this process is the “interactive process,” wherein employers and requesting employees collaborate to identify suitable accommodations. While not explicitly mandated, the law strongly favors this interactive approach. Yet, many employers represented by DC Employment Lawyers stumble in this process, risking adverse outcomes under the ADA.

This post previews discussions from this month’s Breakfast with Bradley, highlighting common pitfalls in this interactive process.

Recognizing the Need for Accommodation & Initiating the Interactive Process: Employees must inform employers of their need for accommodation, which can be verbal or written. The employee need not cite specific legal terminology, triggering the employer’s obligation to initiate the interactive process. However, notice may also come from various sources beyond the employee, including family members, healthcare providers, or through administrative procedures like FMLA or workers’ compensation claims. Employers must exercise diligence in recognizing when to initiate the interactive process, especially when an employee’s disability doesn’t visibly affect job performance.

Documenting the Interactive Process: Thorough documentation of the interactive process is crucial. This includes documenting discussions, exploration of accommodation options, and any conclusions reached. Documentation serves as evidence of due diligence and may be vital in defending against ADA claims.

Exploring Accommodation Options: Employers must remain open to exploring diverse accommodation options, inviting suggestions from the employee and possibly seeking external resources such as legal counsel or the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). However, employers must adhere to ADA confidentiality rules when consulting external resources. Prematurely ending the interactive process or insufficiently exploring accommodation options can land employers in legal trouble.

Choosing, Implementing & Monitoring Accommodations: Employers should consider employee preferences when selecting accommodations but have the discretion to choose effective and cost-efficient options. Trial periods for accommodations are permissible. Once implemented, ongoing monitoring of accommodations is crucial to ensure effectiveness. Changes in circumstances may necessitate adjustments to accommodations, emphasizing the importance of ongoing communication between employers and employees.

In essence, employers must approach the interactive process with thoroughness and fairness, mindful of how their actions may be perceived by employees and potentially by a jury. Diligent adherence to ADA guidelines and robust documentation can mitigate legal risks and foster an inclusive workplace environment.

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