Disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations of their disabilities under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). That includes the obligation to engage in an interactive process to determine what, if any, accommodation is possible.
If the process breaks down, employers that acted in good faith won’t be held responsible.
Therefore, employers should make sure they track the interactive accommodations process so they can show they weren’t responsible for the breakdown.
Recent case: Gregory Hunter cut his little finger at work and claimed he couldn’t get his job done because of the injury. He demanded retraining or a personal assistant as a reasonable accommodation.
The employer balked, saying Hunter’s co-workers could help him with lifting. It also assigned him to jobs that didn’t require using his injured finger.
Hunter was then fired when his work performance didn’t meet expectations—a problem that predated the cut on his finger.
He sued, alleging that his former employer hadn’t in good faith engaged in an interactive accommodations process.
The court reviewed the company’s records and found it made reasonable efforts to help Hunter. It dismissed his case. (Hunter v. Rite Aid, No. E047552, Court of Appeals of California, 4th Appellate District, 2009)
Final note: It doesn’t take much effort to show good faith. Simply document each contact with the employee and what you discussed. If the employee rejects an accommodation without suggesting another, note that—and explain why his original suggestion wasn’t reasonable.
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