There are basically six steps in the interactive process.
Recognize a request for an accommodation. Employees need not utter “ADA” or “accommodation” for a request to be valid. Whenever an employee requests a work-related change or indicates that he or she is having problems performing the job for a reason related to a medical condition, this is a reasonable accommodation request. For example, a doctor’s note which indicates a work restriction should be considered a request for accommodation. If you are not sure whether an employee is asking for an accommodation, ask the employee to clarify what is being requested and why.
Gather information. A simple discussion between you (as the employer) and the employee can go a long way. The discussion should focus on the employee’s limitations in regard to the essential job functions, any barriers keeping the employee from performing the functions, and ideas that could help remove those barriers. The employee may have some ideas as to what accommodations would be effective. This discussion is best done in person, but may be done via other methods such as phone conversations or even emails.
If the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious, you may ask for reasonable documentation to help determine whether the employee needs the requested accommodation and perhaps even some help as to possible accommodations. If the disability and need for accommodation are obvious, the discussion may be very short or even unnecessary.
Explore accommodation ideas. When you are aware of the limitations, you can start exploring accommodation ideas. Go into this with an open mind. Often employers foreclose exploration by thinking only that they have no alternative jobs the employee can perform. Accommodations can be very creative. Sources of ideas beyond the employee can include medical professionals, disability-related organizations, and the Job Accommodation Network (www.askjan.org).
Choose an accommodation. After amassing some ideas, it’s time to choose one. Generally, you may make the choice. You should consider the employee’s choice, but if another accommodation will be effective and cost less or be less disruptive, the decision is yours to make. One in a while, a specific accommodation may be medically necessary, however.
Implement the accommodation. Once an accommodation is chosen, put it into action. Install equipment properly and provide for any needed training. Make a change to a policy or schedule, and inform the appropriate people. Reassign the employee to a new job and allow him to become accustomed to it. Do not delay in the implementation, as doing so may be seen as a form of discrimination.
Monitor the accommodation.You may find that after an initial test period, the accommodation does not work as well as expected. Therefore, you may need to continue looking for ideas. Whichever accommodation is chosen, it needs to be effective.
Alternatively, an employee’s limitations may change (for better or worse). The workplace may change (such as increased for decreased staffing levels). The job duties or responsibilities may change. Such changes can affect the accommodation’s effectiveness. Periodically check to make sure the accommodation is still working and the employee is not experiencing any further problems.
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