June 17, 2014 Articles

Requests for Accommodation: Implementing the ADA's Interactive Process

Communication, creativity, and effort are essential.

By Kathleen M.W. Schoen – June 17, 2014

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer must “make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless [the employer] can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.” 29 C.F.R. § 1630.9.

The ADA “mandates an individualized inquiry in determining whether an [employee’s] disability . . . disqualifies him for a particular position.” Keith v. Cnty. of Oakland, 703 F.3d 918, 923 (6th Cir. 2013). This individualized inquiry is referred to as an “interactive process” in which “both parties have a duty to participate in good faith.” Kleiber v. Honda of Am. Mfg., Inc., 485 F.3d 862, 871 (6th Cir. 2007). The employer is obligated to use the interactive process to determine the appropriate reasonable accommodation that will enable an employee with a disability to perform the essential functions of the position.

The purpose of the ADA’s interactive process is to “identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.” Kleiber, 485 F.3d at 871 (citing 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3)). Guidelines for implementing the ADA’s interactive process are found in the appendix to the administrative rules for the ADA. See 29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. § 1630.9.

The ADA mandates the interactive process to ensure that employers do not disqualify applicants and employees based on “stereotypes and generalizations about a disability, but based on the actual disability and the effect that disability has on the particular individual’s ability to perform the job.” Keith, 703 F.3d at 923. If the interactive process fails to lead to reasonable accommodation of the disabled employee’s limitations, responsibility will lie with the party that caused the breakdown. EEOC v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 417 F.3d 789, 805 (7th Cir. 2005).

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