The ADA Interactive Process: What Is It and Why Is It Important?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, (“ADA, AA”) is a federal statute which prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability.

Who is Considered a “Qualified Individual”?

Under the ADA, AA, a “qualified individual” is an employee or job applicant who can perform the essential functions of his or her position, with or without a reasonable accommodation. See, 42 USCS § 12111(8). In determining whether an individual’s job function is an “essential” function, the Eleventh Circuit often considers the following factors:

  • The amount of time spent on the job performing the function;
  • The consequences of not requiring the employee to perform the function;
  • The terms of the collective bargaining agreement;
  • The work experience of past employees in the job; and
  • The current work experience of employees in similar positions.

How Does the ADA, AA Define “Disability”?

The ADA, AA defines “disability,” in relevant part, as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of [the] individual.” See, 42 USCS § 12102(1)(A). Further, “major life activities” include, among other things, “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” See, 42 USCS § 12102(2)(A).

So, What is the Interactive Process?

The ADA,AA Interactive Process is an informal process between the qualified individual  with a disability that is used to clarify any “reasonable accommodation” needed to help the individual perform the job at issue. The steps of the Interactive Process are as follows:

  • Step 1. Request A Reasonable Accommodation. The qualified individual with a disability should  request an accommodation or the employer may recognize the individual’s need for an accommodation.
  • Step 2. Employer Asks Relevant Questions. Once an accommodation is requested or the employer determines there may be a need for an accommodation, the employer should ask relevant questions that will enable it to make an informed decision about the request and what, if any, reasonable accommodation is needed. At this stage, the employer may ask for reasonable documentation regarding the individual’s disability and limitations.
  • Step 3. Undue Hardship Analysis. After the employer obtains all of the information required to determine what reasonable accommodation is needed, the employer must consider whether the accommodation will cause an undue hardship on the employer’s business. If the accommodation would cause undue hardship, the employer is not obligated to provide it.
  • Step 4. Respond Expeditiously. Once the employer determines whether the reasonable accommodation would (or would not) cause undue hardship, it must respond expeditiously to the individual’s accommodation request by either granting or denying it.

 What Does This Mean For Employers?

Employers must engage in the Interactive Process. Failure to initiate or participate in the ADA, AA Interactive Process may result in the employer’s liability for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation.

However, it is important to note that employers are not required to provide whatever reasonable accommodation a qualified individual requests; employers may offer alternate accommodations which they deem may be more effective.

For more information on the ADA, AA and the Interactive Process, please contact the attorneys at York Bowman Law, LLC.