Under the ADA, disabled employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations that enable them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. And employers are required to engage in what the law calls “an interactive process” to determine what accommodations may be possible.
But “interactive” doesn’t imply you should approach the process casually.
In fact, to avoid later claims that no accommodation was offered, it makes sense to put your reasonable accommodation offer in writing, and have the employee accept or reject the offer. That creates a clear paper trail showing your efforts and the results. There can be no doubt that you made the offer if it is in writing and signed by the employee.
Recent case: Joseph Bellino worked as an air traffic controller until he fell while tracking planes coming in for landing. He had jumped on a stool to look out the tower window and injured both knees when he crash-landed on the floor.
When he returned to work, he asked for an accommodation for his partial disability.
There are two types of air traffic controllers. One type sits in front of a console and monitors airplanes in the sky. The other actually tracks planes as they come in for landings. The sedentary controllers are paid the same but do not get a 10% bonus that the other controllers earn for their often more physically demanding work.
Bellino and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) went back and forth on the accommodations issue for several years. The FAA offered him the sedentary position, but Bellino denied the offer had been made.
He then sued, alleging failure to accommodate. But the FAA pulled out a written accommodation offer, complete with check boxes to indicate whether he accepted the offer. Bellino at first claimed he had never seen the letter, although he later admitted under oath that he had. The court tossed out the case, reasoning that it was much ado about nothing. (Bellino v. Peters, et al., No. 07-2068, 7th Cir., 2008)
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