Ten Steps to Comply with the ADA’s Interactive Process

Contributed by Allison Chaplick

When I was learning a foreign language, such as French, Spanish or Italian, a good rule of thumb teachers engrained in my brain was that to really get a grasp on a new word or phrase, you have to repeat or use that word or phrase ten times.  It seems like a lot to ask, but really, it holds true. This rule nicely translates in the language that at times can seem like Greek to us: the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) and its interactive process.   

Now that the ADAAA’s definition of “disability” had been expanded to what seems to be the maximum extent possible, thus covering more individuals with disabilities than ever before, employers will now have to engage in the interactive process more than ever before.  Here are ten steps for understanding and properly using the interactive process:

  1. The interactive process is idealistically a means for determining what reasonable accommodations are available to allow a disabled employee (or applicant) to perform essential job functions.
  1. The interactive process requires an employer to be proactive and work with the employee so that both identify the employee’s limitations and accommodations which might enable the employee to continue working.
  1. The employer should initiate the interactive process by analyzing the employee’s job functions to establish the essential and non-essential job tasks and identify barriers to job performance by consulting with the employee to learn about the exact limitations and what types of accommodations would be most effective.
  1. Ways to engage in the interactive process include meeting with the employee, exchanging letters, holding telephone conversations, requesting information about the employee’s limitations, considering the employee’s requests and discussing reasonable and effective alternatives if the request is an undue burden.
  1. During the interactive process, the employer should also give the employee an opportunity to discuss his/her abilities, restrictions and ideas for an accommodation, and should also meet with the employee’s supervisor to discuss the reasonable accommodation.
  1. The employer’s response during the interactive process to a request for a reasonable accommodation should be “expeditious,” but need not be immediate.
  1. An employer who takes an active good faith role in the interactive process will not be liable if the employee refuses to participate in the interactive process or withholds essential information during the interactive process. 
  1. At the conclusion of the interactive process, unless an undue hardship is found, the reasonable accommodation provided should be effective to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of his/her job.
  1. An employer sufficiently engages in the interactive process where it grants an effective accommodation, but not necessarily the accommodation requested by the employee. 
  1. An employer is not engaging in the interactive process where the employer denies an employee’s request without providing a meaningful dialogue or explanation of its decision.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published a very informative guideline, EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act  to help employers understand their responsibilities and rights when a qualified employee (or applicant) with a disability requests a reasonable accommodation.