A recent case issued by the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which governs employers in Wisconsin) underscores the importance of engaging in an interactive process with a disabled employee who has asked for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
In Hoppe v. Lewis University, an employee claimed that she suffered from a disability, and sought a reasonable accommodation from her employer. The employer offered three accommodations, each of which the employee rejected. The employer also sought additional medical information from the employee to help it find an appropriate accommodation that might be acceptable to the employee. The employee refused to cooperate. Under these circumstances, the court determined that the employee could not prevail on her ADA claim because she had thwarted the “interactive process” through which she and her employer might arrive at a reasonable accommodation, which in turn thwarted the employer’s ability to offer an appropriate accommodation. The court noted with approval that the employer had continued to make efforts to accommodate the employee despite the lack of information provided.
The ADA “interactive process” involves back and forth discussions between the employer and a disabled employee in an effort to find an appropriate accommodation. An employee who refuses to engage in the process will likely lose her ADA claim. By the same token, an employer who refuses to do so will likely be found liable under the ADA if no reasonable accommodation is ultimately provided. Engaging in good faith in the interactive process helps protect employers from liability under the ADA. Never refuse to talk to an employee about possible accommodations. That way, if the process fails, it is through the fault of the employee and not you.