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Don’t give up on accommodations too early; show a ‘good faith’ effort

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

When faced with a disabled employee, you must actively negotiate possible accommodations in good faith. That may seem obvious, but employers are constantly tripping over their failure to engage in the "interactive accommodations process" the ADA requires. The most common error: assuming that no reasonable accommodation is possible and firing the employee. That's foolish and unnecessary.

Best course: If an employee says he is disabled and needs help doing the job, ask what he thinks will help. If he doesn't know and you have no ideas either, seek professional outside help; don't just throw up your hands and fire the person.

You may want to call the person's doctors or a rehabilitation expert. Check with the EEOC, the Labor Department or your state's labor agency. Document your actions. Just make sure you can show some effort to accommodate the person's disability; doing nothing is unacceptable, as the following case shows.

Recent case: A researcher at a college law library was diagnosed with a disease that would eventually leave her blind. When she met with the college's ADA coordinator, she explained her medical condition and that she had an upcoming appointment with a vocational counselor. During the meeting, she couldn't suggest a reasonable accommodation for her disability.

The ADA coordinator viewed her "no accommodation" statement as an admission that she couldn't perform the job's essential functions, so the college fired her. She sued and the court sided with her, saying the college acted in bad faith by summarily dismissing her. It should have begun the hunt for possible ADA accommodations. (Cutrera v. LSU, No. 4-31100, 5th Cir., 2005)

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