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Ensure supervisors understand importance of documenting accommodations process

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The ADA requires employers to reasonably accommodate disabled employees and applicants. To decide what those accommodations will be, both sides are supposed to engage in an interactive process.

If that process breaks down, a court will try to determine who was responsible for the impasse—and good records are key to winning that fight.

Tell supervisors to carefully document the original request—whether it was oral or written. They should record the initial request in writing and make sure it includes a clear invitation to the applicant or employee to discuss what the company can do to help. Supervisors should ask the disabled employee for suggestions. 

In the following case, the employee suggested an accommodation, but never followed through. Because she did not, the court said she was responsible for the breakdown, and the employer couldn’t be charged with failing to accommodate her disability.

Recent case:
Charlotte Nugent worked for a hospital in a job that involved clerical tasks. She told her supervisors that she suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and needed an accommodation. The hospital said it was open to the possibility and asked Nugent whether she had any specific accommodations in mind that would allow her to get her paperwork in order (filing and managing paperwork were essential job functions).

Nugent suggested that she could bring in an ADHD expert to show her how to better handle her paperwork flow. The hospital agreed. But Nugent never followed through. Instead, she quit and sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the case. It reasoned that when the employee cuts off the accommodations process, she can’t claim her employer failed to accommodate her disability. The ball was in Nugent’s court—she said she would bring in an expert and she didn’t. Her employer wasn’t obligated to go further when it had already agreed to Nugent’s proposed accommodation. (Nugent v. St. Luke-Roosevelt Hospital Center, et al., No. 07-2198, 2nd Cir., 2008) 

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