Treat disability assistance requests with speed, or risk court action

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

When an employee asks you to accommodate her claimed disability, don't put the request on the back burner.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires an "interactive process" with employees to accommodate their disabilities. It's critical to lay a paper trail right away that establishes your company's good-faith efforts to comply with the law. Reason: As a recent ruling shows, courts won't take kindly to any delaying tactics.

What's the benchmark for a timely response? Start making the accommodation effort as soon as you've determined the essential job duties affected, verified the extent of the disability, and determined if recovery is expected.

Recent case: A county social worker notified her supervisors when her multiple sclerosis began to make it hard for her to drive to home visits. Several times, county doctors said she could do her job if she could cut down on fieldwork and typing. But it took the county 17 months to work out the accommodation. By that time, she had filed suit under the state's disability discrimination law (modeled after the ADA).

A federal appeals court sided with the employee. Reason: Such an unreasonable delay violates the law. (Cohen v. Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, No. 2344, Md. Ct. of Spec. App., 2003)

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