Two recent EEOC cases illustrate the importance of employers engaging in the ADA’s interactive process to determine if one can offer a disabled employee a reasonable accommodation.
The EEOC sued North Carolina pub that rescinded a job offer to an applicant after learing he was HIV-positive. According to the agency, the employer made assumptions about the safety of having that individual working around food, without even considering the possibility of any reasonable accommodations.
A Wisconsin manufacturer agreed to pay $167,500 to settle a claim that it required injured employees to meet workers’ comp maximum-medical-improvement standards before returning to work, without any regard for reasonable accommodations that could be made to return the employee to work sooner.
Once an employer becomes aware of the need for a reasonable accommodation, the ADA obligates it to engage in an interactive process with the employee to identify and implement appropriate reasonable accommodations. That process requires communication and good-faith exploration of possible accommodations. An employer cannot dismiss, without discussion, accommodations. An employer cannot even rely on state workers’ comp laws or standards. The interactive process is mandatory, period.
Communication between an employer and a disabled employee is the key to avoiding problems under the ADA. Do not commit the cardinal ADA sin of having a failure to communicate. Talk with your employees. You’d be surprised how many problems you can head off with a simple conversation.