Accommodating Employees Under the ADA—The Effort Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect, It Just Has to Be Made

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.  This process requires that employers and employees engage in an interactive process to discuss potential reasonable accommodations.  The interactive process requires an informal dialogue between the employer and the employee in which the parties discuss reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disabilities.  A recent case out of the First Circuit shows that the process does not have to be perfect to be adequate and that both the employee and the employer have to engage in the interactive process in good faith.

In EEOC v. Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc., No. 14-1268, the employee suffered from Type I diabetes and claimed that her unpredictable work schedule as a sales associate was aggravating her condition and endangering her health.  When the employee supported her request for accommodation with a doctor’s note, her supervisor spoke with human resources.  When the employee and the supervisor met, the employee requested a consistent schedule, which the supervisor said she could not give her.  This was a valid decision by the employer as the accommodation given does not have to be the accommodation the employee specifically requests.  Instead of proposing another accommodation or discussing the options, the employee got upset and quit.  While the employee was leaving, the supervisor asked that she reconsider her resignation and asked to discuss other potential accommodations.  The employee refused and left the premises.  A week later, the supervisor again called the employee and requested that she come back to work and they could discuss accommodations.  The employee did not accept this offer.

The interactive process requires bilateral cooperation and communication and, because the employee did not cooperate in the process and was responsible for the breakdown of communication, the court found that the employer could not be held liable for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation.   The lesson for employers is that their efforts do not need to be perfect to fulfill their requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act; employers simply need to engage in the interactive process in good faith, be willing to discuss potential accommodations with the employee, and, if appropriate, provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation, not necessarily the employee’s preferred accommodation, that permits the employee to perform his or her job.