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The Lyman Firm  |  Information & Resources

Information & Resources

Disability Accommodation And The
Interactive Process

 

THE BOTTOM LINE: If you have a physical or mental disability that make aspects of your job difficult or impossible, you can request a "reasonable accommodation."  Your employer must engage in an "interactive process" with you and make a real effort to try to accommodate your disability.  Typically, a "reasonable accommodation" involves one of the following: 

modification to how you do your job that allows you to still carry out your essential duties; 

transfer to another available position that you can do with or without modification; or  

temporary leave of absence while the disability is managed.  

However: employers are not required to make any accommodation if the accommodation would cause an "under hardship" on the business.   

THE LawCalifornia's workplace disability rights law is called the Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), and it states: 

 

It is an unlawful employment practice for an employer to. . . 

 

  • fail to make reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental disability of an applicant or employee; 

  • fail to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process with the applicant or employee to determine effective reasonable accommodations, if any, in response to a request for reasonable accommodation. 

  • retaliate or otherwise discriminate against a person for requesting accommodation.

Cal. Gov. Code §§ 12940(m), (n).  

definitions: So what does it mean that an employer must engage in an interactive process and reasonably accommodate your physical or mental disability?  Let's unpack these terms:  

  • Physical or Mental Disability: The first questions is always whether the employee has a qualifying disability.  There is no finite list of what conditions qualify as physical or mental disabilities.  These terms are interpreted broadly and generally mean any condition that makes it difficult to do "major life activities," such as: 

  •    walking 

  •    sitting

  •    engaging in social activities

  •    accomplishing physical tasks

  •    eating 

  •    using the restroom 

  •    driving   

  • Interactive ProcessGenerally, employees have to tell employers that they have a disability and need an accommodation.  This "notice" to employers triggers their obligation to engage in an "interactive process" and take positive steps to try to accommodate the employee’s limitations.  This "interactive process" is, therefore, an exchange between employer and employee where each seeks and shares information to achieve the best match between the employee’s capabilities and available positions/duties.

  • Reasonable Accommodation: Whether a particular "accommodation" is "reasonable" depends on the job and disability at issue.  Generally, a reasonable accommodation is a modification to the workplace, the job duties, or the job itself that allows an employee with a disability to enjoy the same benefits and privileges of employment that are available to employees without disabilitiesReasonable accommodations may include the following:

  • Making the workplace readily accessible to and usable by employees with disabilities;

  • Changing job responsibilities or work schedules;

  • Reassigning the employee to a vacant position;

  • Modifying or providing equipment or devices;

  • Modifying tests or training materials;

  • Temporary leave of absence.  

 

HOWEVER: Employers are not required to accommodate a disability if the accommodation would pose an "undue hardship" on the business because it would be significantly difficult or expensive.     ​

How should you request an accommodation? 

A request for accommodation should be done in writing.  Most employers should have a standard form for this.  If there is no form, your written request should communicate the following: 

  • Your disability, or, more specifically, the limitation caused by your disability that has led you to request an accommodation; 

  • ​What aspects of your job are made more challenging or impossible because of your disability;   

  ​

  • What reasonable accommodation you think will solve the problem. 

 

Technically it's the employer's job to determine what reasonable accommodations exist.  But suggestions are part of the "interactive process" and will ensure your employer considers specific ways that your disability can be accommodated.  This will make it far less likely that your employer will deny your request completely.   

Your employer should provide a written response to your request.  If they do not do so automatically, you should ask for one.  

NOTE: Employers may request that you provide medical records to verify your need for accommodation.  However, the records requested should be limited in scope to only what is absolutely needed to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be provided.   

what if your employer refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation?

If your employer refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation, and you're fired or forced to resign because you cannot do your job without the accommodation, you may be entitled to any lost wages you suffered, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, or  even reinstatement.  You may also have a claim for disability-based retaliation or discrimination.  

This information is meant to provide a brief overview of this legal topic to give employees a general understanding of their rights.  Nothing here is legal advice.  There are many nuances in the law and even more in how the law applies to a given situation.  If you think you are experiencing any unlawful practices at work, and would like legal advice, please contact The Lyman Firm through the link below.  

Consultations are free and you pay nothing upfront to retain The Lyman Firm.  

We perform all services on a contingency fee basis, which means we only charge you a percentage of what you recover at the end of your case.  If you win nothing, you pay nothing. 

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