Guidelines for the ADA interactive process
1. Initiate the ADA reasonable accommodation request.
There are no “magic words” that an employee must use when initiating an accommodation request. In many cases, employees do not understand whether they qualify for an accommodation or how the process works. Employers must be proactive and recognize when an employee may need an accommodation, inform the employee, and initiate the interactive process. As mentioned above, it is essential to include information on how to request an accommodation in the employee handbook.
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2. Engage with the employee to understand the accommodation request.
Employers are required to collaborate with the employee throughout the accommodation process. It is imperative to understand what accommodation the employee is asking for, discuss what a feasible accommodation looks like, and work together to determine a solution. Remember to document everything as evidence of the interactive process. For verbal conversations, send a follow-up email or letter to summarize what was discussed and consider having an additional person involved in the discussions.
3. Gather the information needed to process the ADA accommodation request.
In this step, the employer assesses the extent to which the impairment conflicts with the employee’s ability to perform the functions of their job. Gather the documentation required to determine if the employee has a qualifying disability. It’s essential to provide the employee with a medical certification form to be completed by a medical provider; this is different from a standard FMLA WH-380 medical certification form. It is imperative to include an up-to-date copy of the employee’s job description so the medical provider has sufficient information regarding the essential job functions.
This process, including collecting confidential medical information, should be handled by an HR professional and not the employee’s manager. Many accommodations are lifelong, but some, such as pregnancy-related accommodations, will have a determined timeline. Determine with the employee if the accommodation will be for a set amount of time or if it will be a permanent accommodation.
4. Determine whether the employee has a qualifying disability.
Have a conversation with the employee about what is restricting them from performing their job functions. This conversation should be between the employee and an HR professional, not the employee’s manager. If the employee mentions a medical condition, this is an indicator to request medical certification to get a medical professional’s input. There are no set rules; impairments do not need to be severe to qualify for an accommodation. Every request requires an individual assessment.
5. Determine what (if any) reasonable accommodations may be necessary.
Set up a time to speak with the employee to review their request, medical certification, and accommodation options the organization can provide. The accommodation should not cause undue hardship for the company. Once in place, the employee should be held to the same performance standards as other employees performing the same role.
After the interactive process is complete, provide a formal letter to the employee stating the approval or denial of the accommodation request. The letter should include the timeframe for the accommodation and when a check-in will occur, if required, to determine if the accommodation will continue. This information should also be added to the medical form. If the accommodation request has been denied, include an explanation. Get a signature from the employee and keep a copy in their personnel file.
Examples of accommodations:
- A part-time or modified work schedule
- Equipment modifications and improved accessibility
- Job restructuring
- Unpaid leave
- Changes to the delivery of instructions, work orders, and training materials
- Provide assistive services