The Interactive Process and Reasonable Accommodation

After an employer receives a request for reasonable accommodation from an employee, both parties need to participate in the interactive process to discover what type of accommodation, if any, the employer needs to provide. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may cite employers who skip the interactive process for failing to provide reasonable accommodation, resulting in a discrimination suit.

Medical Disability Request for Reasonable Accommodation

Employed as a hairdresser, Debra Kauffman pushed nursing home residents in wheelchairs from their rooms to the beauty shop as part of her normal job duties (Kauffman v. Peterson Health Care). After Kauffman underwent surgery, her doctor advised her to avoid pushing more than 20 pounds. Because the residents weighed much more than the doctor’s suggested work restriction, Kauffman informed her supervisor of the work restrictions and asked if someone else could wheel the residents to the beauty shop for her.

Kauffman’s employer, Peterson Health Care, claimed they would need to hire somebody to transport residents to and from the beauty shop for Kauffman and that would constitute an undue hardship for the business.

Her supervisor stated, “We just don’t allow people to work with restrictions, and you have a restriction on here…[A]s long as you’ve got the restriction we can’t employ you.”

Kauffman resigned and filed a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted that staff members provided assistance to another hairdresser by wheeling residents to the beauty shop after Kauffman’s resignation – with no evidence that wheelchair assistance created an undue hardship for the employer or reduced the quality of care to other residents.

The Court found that Petersen Health Care could not ignore Kauffman’s initial request for accommodation, stating that the employer is required to engage in an interactive process to determine the type of accommodation that would be appropriate.

The case will proceed to a jury trial.

What is the Interactive Process for Reasonable Accommodation Requests?

The interactive process is the collaborative effort between the employer and employee to determine if the employee is able to perform required job functions and if the employer can make a reasonable accommodation for the employee’s disability.

If your company uses the interactive process to find reasonable accommodation for employees, document the process to demonstrate your good-faith effort to accommodate an employee’s disability.

What is Reasonable Accommodation?

Reasonable accommodation as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice is “any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.”

What is the ADA?

The ADA became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA is enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Of the roughly 97,000 discrimination charges that the EEOC receives every year, nearly 26 percent are related to claims of disability discrimination.

For more information on the ADA or reasonable accommodation, please check out our other blogs here and here.


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