In some situations, employers call us to ask about an employee’s request for job modifications that appear unworkable on their face. Sometimes, the requests remove a substantial part of the employee’s job duties, often pushing them to co-workers. In other situations, the accommodation will not allow the work to be completed at all due to its effect on job processes or schedules. In these cases, employers ask us whether they need to go through a formal analysis of the request, or can simply deny them at the outset as unreasonable or ineffective.
Under regulations issued pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are expected to engage in an “interactive process” with employees to explore potential accommodations. Most federal courts have held that the interactive process is not an independent requirement under the ADA, and employers can defend on-the-spot decisions made without consultation with the disabled employee. However, these types of snap decisions risk claims by employees that the lack of consideration resulted in the employer failing to provide reasonable alternate accommodations.
Employers faced with unreasonable requests from employees can meet with the worker, explain the reasons why the request will not work, and ask if she or her physician have alternative suggestions. The employer can engage in its own analysis of the work functions, and take advantage of outside accommodation resources to determine if there are potential measures that the parties may not have considered. Whether successful or not, this process should be documented, and the employee should be given a full explanation of the reasons for the employer’s conclusions.
By conducting a full and fair accommodation process, employers can avoid claims by disappointed employees that their requests were never given more than perfunctory consideration. The ADA also contains limitations on damages claims if employers engage in a good faith interactive process, even if a court later determines that they did not go far enough in providing accommodations.