Q&A with Charlie Plumb
Businesses required to consider
Accommodations for disabled
Q: Workers who become disabled for whatever reason are often unable to return to their former positions due to their current medical or physical conditions. What prevents an employer from simply terminating their employment if they can't do the jobs they were hired to do?
A: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to consider the possibility of a “reasonable accommodation” to allow a disabled employee to maintain his employment with the company. Reasonable accommodations are accommodations that don't impose an undue hardship on the employer. Depending on the situation, examples may include restructuring a position, reassigning the employee to a vacant position, altering a work schedule, making changes to the workplace to make it more accessible or usable, or even modifying equipment for them to use.
Q: When should a reasonable accommodation be considered?
A: If a disabled employee wants to return to work, the employer is legally obligated to engage the worker in an interactive process regarding reasonable accommodations as soon as it is requested by the employee or someone speaking on his behalf, such as a supervisor, co-worker, health professional or family member.
Q: What does it mean to engage in an “interactive process?”
A: Under the ADA, an interactive process means a two-way discussion between the employer and the individual. Such discussions should focus on identifying the disabled worker's specific limitations and discussing and considering potential accommodations that would allow him to overcome those limitations. Employers who fail to do this before deciding to end the person's employment — even if it is later found that a reasonable accommodation could not be made — may find themselves defending a failure-to-accommodate claim in court.
Q: Are employers required to provide a specific accommodation requested by the employee?
A: No. Some accommodations requested by employees may be unreasonable or impose undue hardship on the company. If there is an accommodation that is feasible, then as long the employer offers an accommodation that is effective and allows the employee to return to work, that employer has fulfilled its legal obligations under the ADA. Likewise, the employer can't require the disabled worker to accept the accommodation offered. If the worker rejects an effective accommodation, they may not be qualified to remain in their job.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER