An Important Step in the ADAA: The Interactive Process

This post may be a bit “HR geeky”, but supposedly I am the “HR technician.” I am not really sure about that but if I save someone’s fanny from a lawsuit I will be happy. (BTW, nothing I say on this post should be construed to be legal advice. I am NOT an attorney! If I were I would probably have a lot more money than I do. Assuming of course I was a good one.) I did however go and and listen to several attorneys from Freeman, Mathis & Gary in a law update they presented this morning. I paid close attention as they discussed the interactive process required in the ADA Amendments Act when someone is asking for a reasonable accommodation. They mentioned that they are finding this is an area many of their clients are not doing well, and I imagine if that is true for their clients it is probably more widespread.

The key point about the interactive process is that it needs to be truly interactive. A series of emails is probably not going to be sufficient. You need to have a conversation, preferably face-to-face. And because the HR representative holding this discussion is probably not really aware of the job being discussed you need to have someone who knows the job involved with the discussion as well. You need to look at job functions, the job description, and current medical documentation of the employee’s condition. The current condition is important because time may have passed from the original situation and physical changes may have occurred (for better or worse.)

The second key point about the interactive process is that it needs to be well documented. You need to have:

  • Dates and times communication is attempted.
  • Dates and times conversations actually occured and who was involved.
  • What options were considered and what was rejected and the reasons why those rejections were made.
  • When the employee was notified of the decision and any ensuing discussions that took place.

Once you have done all of that you are not done. The law allows the employee to appeal that decision and to ask you to reconsider your decision and to explore other options. Again this needs to be interactive. You have to show that you were listening and considering. Off-handed rejections or refusal to participate in the interactive process will most likely land you in court.

So for those of you who have not revised your process you need to take a look at your policy, your procedures, and your documentation processes to make sure you are prepared to handle the new demands of the interactive process. This law makes it much easier for people to claim a disability. So good preparatin is important. Good luck.

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