The Biggest Mistake Employers Make During the ADA Interactive Process
Are you making every effort?
For many employers, accommodating disabilities under the ADA is a big headache. This isn’t necessarily because they aren’t compassionate, but because they don’t have either the experience with or understanding of the ADA. This typically results in one of two actions: they fear mishandling the request and end up over-accommodating (indefinite leaves of absence, anyone?), or they don’t grasp all of their obligations and under-accommodate.
Rushing the Process is the Biggest Mistake You Can Make
Since over-accommodating an employee rarely ends up in court, I want to talk about the other problem, which is under-accommodating an employee. Sometimes under-accommodation happens because of under-engagement in the interactive process, where an employer has a single conversation with an employee and nothing is immediately resolved. The employer quickly determines that any accommodation simply doesn’t work and terminates the worker’s employment.
Employers would do well to protect themselves by exploring every possible avenue, which may mean reaching out to other professionals, including the employee’s physician, and JAN.
Granted, if you can come up with a simple accommodation with the employee in five minutes—and sometimes that’s the case—go for it. An employee making widgets on a production line who happens to need a stool should be easily accommodated.
But when the answer isn’t so clear, you may want to send the employee to their physician to 1) review the employee’s job description; 2) verify that the employee has a condition which requires an accommodation; and 3) suggest some possible accommodations.
But don’t stop there. Do your own research online—to the extent that you’re able—and see if you can find some solutions for people in similar situations. Or, if you can’t find anything yourself, reach out to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which is a free service that offers solutions to ADA accommodation requests and also offers guidance on navigating the ADA.
Other Steps to Great Accommodation Processes
While a lack of effort tends to be the biggest reason employers fail to meet the requirements of the interactive process, you’ll also want to ensure you’re hitting some other key areas:
- Train your managers to spot a need for accommodation—remember, there is no special language an employee needs to use to request an accommodation.
- Document each step of your process, each conversation, and reasons for final decisions or accommodations found and made.
- Treat your employees the same. The super unproductive employee should be given the same opportunity for accommodation as your star employee.
If you do end up needing to terminate an employee because a reasonable accommodation can’t be found, you’ll want to have it clearly documented that you made more than a token effort to find a solution that worked for every party.
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