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How to engage in the ‘Interactive Process’ with an employee.

TLDR; Use the interactive process to collaborate with your employees on effective accommodations.

Team Disclo
October 14, 2022

There are perks to creating a company culture that welcomes employees with disabilities. After an employee requests accommodations, the employer must take the appropriate steps. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the protections provided to employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The EEOC’s recommended starting point is to use an interactive process once a request has been made.

What is the interactive process?

Think of the interactive process as collaborating with your employees to develop accommodations. These accommodations are specific to each individual’s needs. The interactive process can begin when the employee makes the request. So it’s important to note that your employee’s request doesn’t have to be in writing. Employees can start the interactive process using any form, including verbal communication. The request can also come from someone other than the employee. Friends, family, and health professionals can request accommodations on an employee’s behalf. 

The interactive process isn’t always necessary, though. There may be times when the “appropriate accommodation is obvious.” If you know an employee with a disability has a need, you can begin the interactive process in “good faith.” Let's say you have an employee that uses a wheelchair. You can begin providing accommodations during the construction of a ramp if there are inaccessible areas.

Interactive process checklist

The interactive process will look different for everyone. Here are some recommended steps to include in your checklist.

Recognize an accommodation request

The interactive process often begins when the employee makes an accommodation request. The ability of employers and their managerial staff to recognize requests is important. The request doesn’t have to include any specific terminology. Phrases like “reasonable accommodation,” “Americans with Disabilities Act,” or “disability” aren't necessary. Pay careful attention to medical-related issues employees bring to your attention.

Example: Your employee tells you they’re having issues getting to work on time because of a medical treatment they are receiving. This is considered an accommodation request.

But, if you have an employee request a new chair because it’s uncomfortable, it wouldn’t be a request for reasonable accommodations. That’s because their request for a new chair isn’t related to a medical condition. 

💡 When in doubt, ask for clarification on the request and why.

Once you’ve identified an accommodation request, it’s best to take action immediately. Unnecessary delays are a violation of the ADA. Choose someone to ensure that the request for accommodations gets processed.

Collect necessary information to process the request

No extra information is necessary when:

  • the employee’s disability and need for accommodation are obvious
  • the disability has been previously disclosed

When the need isn't obvious, more information will be helpful when discussing accommodations. 

The EEOC recommends that you analyze the job, its purpose, and its essential functions. Essential functions are the basic job duties that an employee must be able to perform. This includes with or without reasonable accommodation. Work with your employee to understand their specific challenges or limitations. Understand how these limitations impact their essential job functions. 

💡 Remember to only ask for the necessary medical information. This includes information on the essential job functions your employee can and can’t do. 

Consider accommodation options

Ask your employees if they have any thoughts on what might help. Together you can discuss the potential impact of the accommodations. Other resources, such as the Job Accommodations Network (JAN), or your employee's medical provider, can give suggestions.  JAN is a free national resource for employers looking for help with accommodations.

💡Be open to doing things a different way.

Select and issue an accommodation

Another EEOC recommendation is to consider the employee’s preference. Then select the most appropriate accommodation for you and your employee. You can even have a trial period whenever there’s doubt that an accommodation will be a good fit. 

A reasonable job accommodation may include:

  • job restructuring 
  • leave (paid or unpaid)
  • a modified or part-time schedule
  • physical changes to the workspace
  • accessible and assistive technologies
  • excessive communications
  • modified workplace policies
  • reassignment 

Here’s an example of a reasonable job accommodation:

A cleaning crew works in an office building. One member of the crew wears a prosthetic leg which enables him to walk very well, but climbing steps is painful and difficult. Although he can perform his essential functions without problems, he cannot perform the marginal function of sweeping the steps located throughout the building. (Marginal functions are responsibilities that, once altered or removed, don’t change the primary purpose of the job.) The marginal functions of a second crew member include cleaning the small kitchen in the employee's lounge, which is something the first crew member can perform. The employer can switch the marginal functions performed by these two employees. 

You don’t have to provide a reasonable accommodation that would cause “undue hardship.” But you must select the next reasonable and effective accommodation when this happens. 

💡 Don’t assume that the costs of providing the accommodation will be too expensive.

Track the accommodation

Circumstances or the effectiveness of accommodations can change over time. It’s a good idea to touch base with your employee on how things are going. Communication is especially important if you’ve provided any assistive technology or equipment. Determine if any repair, maintenance, or replacement is necessary to any equipment. 

💡 Empower your employee to express concerns with their accommodations at any time.

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