Duty to Participate in the Interactive Process for Reasonable Accommodation

While most know that employers have a duty to participate in the interactive process for reasonable accommodation, many don’t realize that this also extends to employees as well. Employers and employees alike have a duty to participate in the interactive process. When one party fails to participate in the interactive process, that party risks losing a future lawsuit.

What Law Demands the Interactive Process?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) demands that employers and employees participate in an interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation in the event of an employee disability. The interactive process is a two-way street of information sharing and negotiation between the employer and employee.


Brandt works with heavy machinery, and his company has a policy that employees who take strong medications will be removed from that area of work. He began to self-medicate for back pain but didn’t inform his boss. When he was reported, the company required more information from him. Brandt refused. The company fired him. Brandt filed a lawsuit but his case was dismissed because he’d failed to participate in the interactive process.

Is the Employee Obligated to Request a Reasonable Accommodation?

The ADA provides the right for employees to request a reasonable accommodation. But, it’s also a double-edged sword because an employee who doesn’t seek a reasonable accommodation but files a disability discrimination against an employer will likely lose the lawsuit. The court wants to see that the employee did everything in his or her power to remain at the job.

Specifically Request a Reasonable Accommodation
An employee specifies what accommodation they believe they need to perform their job. No vague suggestions will work.

Employer Determines if Accommodation is Possible
Once an employee states what they need to work, whether new equipment or a department transfer, the employer must consider whether or not it can be done. If the employer determines it can’t be done, it’s the employer’s job to prove why if challenged in court.

Is the Employer Required to Respond to a Reasonable Accommodation Request?

So yes, the ADA demands that the employer takes an employee’s request for reasonable accommodation seriously. Of course, this means an employer will need to seek more information from the employee to find out what the disability, illness, or condition impairs. An employer is allowed to ask for this information in order to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Identify What Impedes Job Performance
During the interactive process, the employer must consult with the employee to discover the particular limitations and possible accommodations. Once accommodations are settled on, the employer will likely want to assess the effectiveness of each.

Steps that Must Be Taken for Interactive Process

Employers and employees are obligated to participate in the interactive process. This means that when an employee recognizes that they have a disability that is keeping them from working efficiently that they must take the necessary steps to notify their employer. Mind readers are rare if nonexistent so employers and employees must communicate.

1. The Employee Must Notify the Employer about Need of Reasonable Accommodation.

An employee who does this can speak to a boss or supervisor and then follow-up the request with a summary email. This time-stamps the request and starts a paper trail.

2. The Employee Should Have Suggestions for Reasonable Accommodations.

It’s not just up to the employer to come up with reasonable accommodations for an employee with a disability. After all, the employee knows best what would enhance their job performance. Moreover, the ADA prefers that employees suggest ideas for reasonable accommodations.

Possible Reasonable Accommodations

  • Job restructure
  • Part-time work
  • Flexible hour scheduling
  • Job reassignment
  • Modifications of equipment
  • Purchase of new equipment

3. Employer Provides Paperwork on Reasonable Accommodation.

The employer should take the necessary steps to show that they are taking the employee’s request seriously. Basically, an employer does this by documenting the request and providing the employee a copy of the documentation.

4. Determine Employee’s Eligibility for ADA Rights Based on Qualification of Disability.

The ADA outline qualifications to determine whether an employee is eligible for ADA rights. Those qualifications are broad, meaning that most employees will meet the parameters.

Request Medical Paperwork
Sometimes an employer will require medical paperwork to back up the employee’s claim of a disability. This is a legal request. An employee should take the necessary steps to provide this information to the employer.

5. Assign the Reasonable Accommodation to the Employee.

Once a reasonable accommodation is given to an employee, the employer generally requires a follow-up assessment to ensure that the accommodation is performing as desired.

Employers and employees have a duty to participate in the interactive process for a reasonable accommodation. When one party refuses to participate and a disability discrimination claim is made, not taking part in the interactive process could impact the outcome of the lawsuit. If you are an employee and your employer has failed to participate in the interactive process for a reasonable accommodation, reach out to an employment lawyer to determine your legal options.

Chat with an employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or lawyer@lawkm.com.