When an employee informs an employer he/she has a disability that requires accommodation, employers must remember that engaging in an interactive process with that employee is imperative. It is not enough for an employer to simply provide what it believes is a reasonable accommodation. The interactive process must be used to facilitate a conversation between employer and employee to determine the different reasonable accommodation possibilities. They can then decide together what the best option will be for that employee, as long as that option is not an undue burden on the employer.
Recently, a federal circuit court affirmed a jury verdict against Time Warner Cable in a disability discrimination case. Time Warner argued that it had provided a reasonable accommodation and, therefore, complied with its obligations under California law. The jury agreed that an accommodation had been provided, but found that Time Warner did not engage in the interactive process, and the plaintiff succeeded based upon that specific failure. While in this case, California law was being applied, the Americans with Disabilities Act also requires employers to engage in the interactive process.
Always be sure to document the conversations and correspondence that take place during the interactive process. The records can greatly assist in defending a future disability discrimination claim.