Employers have an obligation to engage with disabled employees in an interactive accommodations process. But exactly how do you go about proving you complied when the employee says you didn’t try to help?
Your best approach is to track all your efforts to accommodate, including every contact with the employee, whether by phone, e-mail, memo or snail mail.
Gather the information as you proceed and keep it in a separate file marked “confidential.” If challenged, you’ll be able to show exactly how the process went.
Pay particular attention to any temporary accommodations you authorized while considering permanent ones.
Recent case: Gary Barnes worked for the city of Coon Rapids as a custodian. Barnes had many health problems, including sleep apnea, morbid obesity and Hodgkin’s disease. He began to complain that mold in the buildings he cleaned was creating additional problems. He requested a transfer to the parks department.
Meanwhile, the employer approved for Barnes and helped him apply for long-term disability payments. It also extended his leave two weeks beyond the 12 weeks he was entitled to and informed him that he could work in a parking garage as an accommodation.
Barnes never returned to work, and the city terminated him.
Then he sued, alleging the city hadn’t engaged in the interactive accommodations process, since he hadn’t been placed in the parks department.
The court tossed out the case, pointing out that it was Barnes who hadn’t communicated well with the employer. The court said the city proved it took the process seriously and tried to help with additional leave, plus another job placement. (Barnes v. City of Coon Rapids, No. 07-3672, DC MN, 2009)
Final note: Disabled employees aren’t always entitled to their preferred accommodation.
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