Written by attorney Jennifer McClain Tennant

How to Engage in the Interactive Process with an Employee with a Disability

Have you been notified that an employee at your company has or may have a disability? If so, there are certain steps you need to take. Employers must engage in the interactive process with an employee with a disability to determine if an accommodation is needed for the employee to do the job. In the interactive process, the employer communicates with an employee in determining whether an appropriate accommodation would permit the disabled employee to perform the essential functions of their job. This guide explains how to engage in the interactive process.

Employer's Obligation

The employer must engage in a “timely, good faith interactive process" with an employee or applicant with a known physical or mental disability or known medical condition. Although the statute does not expressly so provide, case law makes clear that the employer must initiate the process if the employee's disability is known or apparent: an employer who knows of the disability of an employee has an affirmative duty to make known to the employee other suitable job opportunities. All steps of the interactive process must be documented.

Employee's Obligation

The employee has the responsibility to cooperate in good faith with the employer, including providing information that the employer may require to explore accommodations. Typically, the employee must be able to provide the employer with a list of restrictions that must be met to accommodate the employee. The employer may take the employee's demands into consideration in determining whether a suitable opening exists. The more restrictions the employee requires, the fewer jobs may be available.

Parties Involved in the Process

The parties to the process should include the employee, the manager/supervisor, HR, and input from the employee’s health care provider.

Reasonable Accommodation

The term "reasonable accommodation" includes, but is not limited to:

  • Providing personal assistants or attendants to help a qualified individual with a disability perform an essential job function;
  • Making existing job facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by disabled individuals;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Part-time or modified work schedules;
  • Reassignment to a vacant position for which the individual is qualified;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices;
  • Modifying examinations, training materials or policies; and
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters.

Unreasonable Accommodation

Reasonable accommodation does not require an employer to:

  • Find a different position for a job applicant who is not qualified for the position originally sought;
  • Lower quality or quantity standards to make an accommodation; or
  • Provide personal use items, such as glasses or hearing aids.

General Steps to the Interactive Process

  1. Identify the essential and non-essential functions of the job, and make sure these are in writing.
  2. Schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss whether the employee needs an accommodation to perform the essential functions of the job.
  3. Ask the employee if he or she has any restrictions required by a doctor. If so, request a doctor’s note.
  4. Ask the employee to identify any job-related limitations and for possible accommodations.
  5. After the meeting, determine whether any accommodations are reasonable.
  6. Implement the accommodation that is most appropriate or determine that there is no reasonable accommodation and terminate employee.
  7. If applicable, give the employee information about other open job positions.
  8. There may be a need for additional accommodations and continuing discussions regarding accommodations if the initial accommodation is not successful.
  9. Contact an employment lawyer for assistance in the process or to answer any questions when unusual circumstances arise.

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