Because each disability is different, what constitutes a reasonable accommodation depends on an individualized assessment of each disabled employee’s situation. Getting to the end goal—an accommodation that allows the employee to perform the job—necessarily requires some back and forth between the employee and the employer. This is the ADA’s interactive accommodations process.
Smart employers track the interactive process to show the efforts they made to accommodate.
They pay particular attention to documenting the employee’s requests, even after an accommodation is put in place. That way, if the employee later claims the employer didn’t do enough to accommodate his disability, the employer can show what the employee actually requested. If the employee never requested modifications to an accommodation, he won’t be able to claim later that the employer didn’t engage in the interactive process. The fault would lie with the employee.
Recent case: Patrick worked for the Philadelphia Gas Works for many years. His duties included performing service and repairs on utility appliances, and training other staff members how to do that, too.
Patrick injured his knee while working on a water heater. He needed surgery to repair the injury. He received workers’before returning to work with several restrictions on such activities as climbing and generally bending his knee.
After reviewing the medical restrictions and discussing them with Patrick, Philadelphia Gas placed him in a light-duty position. He performed that job for a while without complaint.
Then, after getting into an argument with a co-worker, Patrick retired, apparently fearing he might be discharged for breaking company rules against fighting.
But then Patrick sued, alleging that he had further injured himself while doing light-duty work that he claimed required him to perform tasks that were beyond his medical restrictions.
Philadelphia Gas countered that Patrick had never complained about the light-duty assignment. Therefore, it said, he—and not the company—had failed to engage in the ADA’s interactive accommodations process.
The court dismissed Patrick’s claim, explaining that both sides have to use the process. If an employee doesn’t, he can’t later complain that an accommodation wasn’t adequate. (McGlone v. Philadelphia Gas Works, No. 15-3262, ED PA, 2017)