The Interactive Process: Cornerstone of ADA Compliance

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance sounds like a dry topic…until you find yourself in the middle of a sticky situation. When it comes to physical and mental health matters, well-intentioned managers and leaders often either ask for too much or not enough information, and sometimes the organization ends up in hot water when a situation is mishandled. The ADA is one of the most challenging employment laws for organizations to navigate. Its provisions aren’t intuitive for managers and each situation must be evaluated independently, so standardization is almost impossible.

The interactive process is described by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as an informal process between the employer and employee. Though described as informal, it is one of the cornerstones of ADA compliance and provides substantial protections for employers when used in good faith. The ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, though many states have also included similar obligations in their non-discrimination regulations that apply to smaller employers.

Essentially, the EEOC expects employers and employees to talk, plan, communicate, and work it out. Both parties have responsibilities to participate in good faith, though the employer has a significantly heavier burden than the employee for knowing and complying with the law. The employer and employee are obligated to work together to remove barriers preventing disabled employees from performing the essential functions of their job. An ongoing, interactive process aimed at discovering and providing reasonable accommodations should be utilized any time an employee requests an accommodation or when the employer becomes aware an accommodation is needed.

As part of the interactive process, an employer may offer alternative suggestions for reasonable accommodations or request additional information from a health care provider in an effort to come to a resolution that works for the employee, and is not considered an undue hardship for the organization.

When it comes to the employer’s responsibilities, the American Bar Association says, “Courts generally have held that the interactive process requires employers to analyze job functions to establish the essential and nonessential job tasks, identify the barriers to job performance by consulting with the employee to learn the employee’s precise limitations, and explore the types of accommodations that would be most effective.”

Interactive Process Compliance Tips

  • Promptly begin the interactive process and talk to the employee about the requested accommodation.
  • If an accommodation is simple or easy to make, proceed with making the accommodation.
  • Ask the employee to complete a formal accommodation request form, if necessary.
  • When necessary, request documentation from the employee’s health care provider regarding the nature of the disability and required accommodations.
  • Document any accommodation made and provide the employee a copy of the memo or confirmation of the accommodation.
  • In the case where an accommodation is not made or an alternate accommodation is offered, ensure the reasoning for the decision is documented in an internal memo.
  • Ensure all accommodations and steps of the interactive process have been documented.

As you can see, documentation and making sure that the proper process is followed is essential for being compliant and taking care of your employees. If a situation does arise, make sure that there is clear communication and resolution in the discussions. Even though the ADA regulations can be difficult to navigate and understand, knowing what to do in the interactive process can save you from many headaches down the road.

How is your organization currently handling the ADA and the Interactive Process?

Sarah Charlier

As a HR Services Supervisor for Oasis, a Paychex® Company, Sarah Charlier engages directly with Presidents, CEOs, and Executive Leadership in organizations to identify and execute strategic human resources initiatives. She serves as a business partner by leading executives and managers through employee relations issues, technical labor law compliance, preparing managers to effectively manage employee performance, and creating and adapting HR processes to best serve the organization.


May 12, 2017

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Sarah Charlier