Employers must engage in this process to determine a reasonable accommodation.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), employers are legally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The question of what type of accommodations are “reasonable” can be challenging. This determination is made during an interactive process, which helps both parties determine if a proposed accommodation is reasonable. If an employer fails to engage in an interactive process with an employee, they may face a legal claim under the FEHA.
So when exactly is an employee entitled to engage in an “interactive process” with their employer about a proposed accommodation? As a California employment lawyer can explain, there are three potential ways that an employer may become responsible for starting the interactive process.
- An employee requests an accommodation related to their disability.
- An employer becomes aware of the need for an accommodation, either from their own observations or through a third party.
- An employee with a disability exhausts their disability-related leave and is still unable to work.
Importantly, if you request an accommodation or your boss becomes aware of your need for an accommodation, your employer is not necessarily entitled to know your diagnosis or even the specifics of your disability or medical condition. It is enough that your employer is aware of your disability-related work limitations.
There are any number of accommodations that may be reasonable based on the specific circumstances of your disability and your job duties. For example, if you use a wheelchair, then a reasonable accommodation would be to make the workspace accessible. If your disability leaves you unable to work for long stretches of time, your employer may need to offer you a part-time or modified work schedule, such as a later start to your day. According to a California employment lawyer, FEHA provides a list of some other possible accommodations, including:
- Job restructuring
- Providing additional training
- Purchasing or modifying equipment or devices
- Permitting assistive animals on the job site
- Providing paid or unpaid leave
This list is not exhaustive; there may be other accommodations that are reasonable based on your disability.
Although employees can propose an accommodation, the employer has the final say in choosing from a list of effective accommodations. Your boss may choose to provide an accommodation that is easier to provide that another on a list of possible accommodations. However, unless it would cause “undue hardship” for an employer to pick your suggested accommodation, they should give preference to the accommodation that you prefer.
The interactive process is an important step in determining what type of accommodation is reasonable under the circumstances. Remember that if your employer does not engage in this process after they become aware of a need for an accommodation, then you may have a legal claim against them just for their failure to engage. An experienced California employment lawyer can help you determine if filing a claim on this basis is possible.
Seeking a workplace accommodation can be intimidating, particularly if you are worried that your employer may retaliate against you for asking for it. If your employer does not cooperate with your request or fails to engage in the interactive process, PLBSH can help. Our team of seasoned attorneys is dedicated to helping employees who face all types of workplace discrimination, including the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation or engage in the interactive process with an employee with a disability. Contact us today at (800) 435-7542 or firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation with a member of our team.