Overview: The interactive process is vital to compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Once an employer is aware that an employee has a disability under the ADA and the impairment is affecting the employee's ability to perform the essential functions of the job, the employer should conduct an individualized assessment of the employee to determine whether a reasonable accommodation would help the employee perform the essential job functions.
As part of this assessment process, the ADA requires that an employer engage in a timely, good-faith and meaningful interactive discussion with the employee to identify and assess any potential reasonable accommodations for overcoming the employee's limitations, taking into consideration the employee's preference and any other effective accommodations.
The interactive process is fluid. It does not end when an employer provides an accommodation to an employee. Rather, the employer should periodically check in with the employee to make sure that the accommodation provided is still sufficient, helpful and/or necessary. The interactive process also does not end if the employer determines that the employee's requested accommodation is unreasonable. The employer and employee should continue to assess other accommodation options.
Trends: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is pursuing employers that discriminate against individuals with disabilities and has targeted several employers that have "no fault" leave or attendance policies (i.e., a policy wherein an employee is automatically terminated if he or she cannot return to work immediately after taking the maximum amount of leave provided under the policy). The EEOC has stated that these policies run afoul of the ADA's protections because they fail to incorporate an interactive process to assess whether additional leave may be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA.
Author: Melissa S. Burdorf, JD, Legal Editor
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HR guidance on the process an employer undergoes once it is aware an employee has an ADA-protected disability and needs a reasonable accommodation.