When it comes to accommodating disabilities, the process is supposed to be interactive. That means both the employee and employer are supposed to discuss how best to accommodate a disability while meeting everyone’s needs.
If an employer doesn’t work with the employee on accommodations, it may prompt a disability discrimination lawsuit.
But disabled workers have similar obligations. If they decline to participate in the accommodations process, they can’t claim the employer failed to accommodate them.
That’s why it’s so important to keep excellent records showing your efforts at accommodation and employees’ responses—especially if they are less than cooperative.
Recent case: After 30 years operating a double forklift, John Jefferson hurt his back. He was off for a few months and got chiropractic care. When he returned to work, he requested an accommodation: a transfer to a shift where he wouldn’t have to operate the same forklift.
But when the company asked Jefferson to document his disability, it got very little information. After notifying Jefferson three times, in writing, that it needed to know more about his condition and limitations, the company gave up.
Then Jefferson retired—and sued, alleging he should have been accommodated by being allowed to change shifts.
The court said he couldn’t claim he hadn’t been accommodated when it was clear he was responsible for the breakdown in accommodations communication. (Jefferson v. MillerCoors, No. 10-10774, 5th Cir., 2011)
Final note: Here’s how to handle an accommodations request. First, ask for disability information such as a doctor’s diagnosis and limitations assessment. Then compare that to a current job description, noting the disability’s impact on essential functions only. Then discuss ways to accommodate limitations in a way that allows the employee to perform the essential functions.