Under the ADAAA (Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act) there is a requirement that employers have interactive discussions with employees about their needs for accommodations in performing their jobs. My Miriam-Webster dictionary defines interactive as “mutually or reciprocally active” which implies a back and forth discussion. That is also what the EEOC defines as interactive. It is NOT a one-time event. They reaffirmed this in a recent case.
Big bucks for not having a discussion
According to a press release from the EEOC “River Region Medical Center, which provides inpatient and outpatient medical and surgical services in Vicksburg, Miss., and surrounding areas, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit…” Additionally, they have to “…post notices on its bulletin boards reaffirming to its employees its policy not to discriminate against employees with disabilities, and informing them of their right to contact the EEOC if they feel they have been discriminated or retaliated against.” And they have to be reviewed by the court after one year. What did they do to deserve this kind of judgment against them?
A nurse was to have surgery on her shoulder. She applied for sick leave for her surgery and it was granted, but prior to the surgery, her doctor told her she needed to apply for additional time off for her recovery. That accommodation to her condition was denied and in fact “refused to provide any accommodation, and failed to engage in any interactive process to try to reach a solution. According to the EEOC, River Region refused to place Chambers temporarily in an available light-duty position for which she was qualified, and then terminated her after 36 years of employment there.”
According to attorney Amy Epstein Gluck, of Fisher Boyles, the requirement to engage in the interactive discussion is an “ongoing duty.” You can read her analysis here. As an employer, you cannot just refuse to discuss an accommodation. You have to determine and EXPLAIN to the employee how and why their request is unreasonable. You need to document that process in order to protect your company from this type of judgment.
I won’t even comment about a company that terminates a 30 plus year employee because they requested time off to recuperate from surgery. I may save that for a “bad HR” post.