For employers, the disability accommodation process can be complicated and time-consuming. It’s important that company representatives have a clear view of the common “big picture” issues that come up during the process.
Employers definitely have to use an individualized approach to each disability accommodation request, but there are some commonalities that apply to every situation. Here are some tips to give employers some general guidance:
- Assume good faith. Always approach accommodation requests with the assumption that the employee is entering the process in good faith. An employer’s obligation is to conduct a fair, interactive accommodation process. Starting from a point of suspicion (e.g., that the employee is abusing the system) isn’t conducive to this requirement. Of course, an employer does have the right to ask for evidence to support the restrictions or limitations described by the employee. That evidence may be necessary to determine an appropriate accommodation that is reasonable and effective.
- Act in good faith. Become skilled at engaging in the interactive process and perform the accommodation analysis in good faith. This will send a strong message to employees on their value, will enhance employee morale, and should be part of any employer’s long-range strategy to become an employer of choice.
- Train your staff. Ensure that human resources professionals and managers are properly trained to recognize when the duty to begin the interactive process arises.
- Keep communicating. Once the interactive process begins, keep lines of communication with the employee open, and expect the employee to do the same. The accommodation analysis shouldn’t be made in a vacuum; it must involve employee input from beginning to end. Presumably, the employee (and his or her medical professional) is in the best position to provide information about the employee’s restrictions or limitations. This process is ongoing; expect continued communication with the employee if circumstances change. Follow up with the employee to ensure that the accommodation has been successful.
- Stay consistent. The accommodation analysis should include a review of any past precedents on prior requests from employees to ensure consistency. Of course, the employer isn’t necessarily bound by any precedents because circumstances may be different, but reviewing past precedent is a good place to start to ensure consistent and fair treatment of employees.
- Consider all options. Although the choice of which accommodation to provide ultimately belongs to the employer (as long as the accommodation is reasonable and effective), always consider the employee’s requested accommodation. Employers don’t have to choose the employee’s proposed accommodation or even the best accommodation, but it’s useful to consider all options as well as factors such as cost and other business realities.
CEB provides detailed guidance for every step of the disability accommodation process, including a diagram illustrating the process, checklists, and sample letters in Drafting Employment Documents for California Employers, chapter 6. Issues surrounding discrimination based on disability are covered in CEB’s Advising California Employers and Employees, chapter 15.
Related CEB blog posts:
- 15 Steps to Help Employers Move through the Interactive, Accommodation Process
- An Overall Victory for Employers in Mixed-Motives Cases
- What Insurance Won’t Cover: Discrimination in Workers’ Compensation Cases
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