An Overview of Best Practices for California Employers Who Receive a Reasonable Accommodation Request from an Employee
Federal law and California law provide certain workplace protections to employees with disabilities. It is imperative that employers comply fully with their legal obligations. Among other things, employers must handle reasonable accommodation requests in a proper, professional and lawful manner. Here, our California workplace solutions attorney provides a basic overview of the best practices for employers who receive a reasonable accommodation request from an employee.
Know Your Obligations Under Federal and State Law
The primary federal law that prohibits disability discrimination in the workplace is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), as amended. It applies to employers in California (and other states) with 15 or more employees. California state law—the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)—provides even more comprehensive disability discrimination protections to employees. It applies to employers with five (5) or more employees. Both the ADA and FEHA require covered employers to engage in a good faith, interactive process with the employee, to find an effective reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee who can perform the essential functions of the position with accommodation.
Develop and Implement Policies/Procedures for Handling Accommodation Requests
A proactive approach is key. The first step for California employers is to have clear and written policies in place that outline how to handle accommodation requests. Among other things, these policies should:
- Outline the process for submitting a request, including any documentation the employer requires to initiate the process;
- Specify the timeline within which the employer will respond; and
- Ensure that all managerial and H.R. staff are well-informed and trained on the policies.
Initiate the Interactive Process
Upon receiving an accommodation request, it’s crucial for employers to promptly engage in what’s known as the “interactive process.” This process is a dialogue between the employer and the employee to understand the precise nature of the request and to explore potential accommodations. The goal is to find a reasonable solution that addresses the employee’s needs without causing “severe undue hardship” for the business. Among other things, employers in California should:
- Actively listen to the employee’s concerns and needs for accommodation that will – in their view – enable them to perform their “essential job functions”;
- Discuss potential solutions and alternatives if the employer cannot satisfy the employee’s initial request for accommodation ;
- Document all discussions and decisions to maintain a transparent and accountable record; and
- Check with legal counsel to evaluate the standard for the employer’s “severe undue hardship,” before responding to the employee.
Proactively Protect Sensitive Employee Health Information
Accommodation requests often come with sensitive health or medical information. Employers have a legal and ethical obligation to protect this data. Employers should:
- Keep all medical information in separate files from general personnel records;
- Limit access to this information to only those who need to know it; and
- Properly train staff on the importance of confidentiality regarding health data.
Contact a Reasonable Accommodation Lawyer for Employers in California
At the Law Office of Karen J. Sloat, APC, our California employment attorney helps employers navigate reasonable accommodation cases. If you have questions about the best practices or about a specific matter, we are here to help you find the best solution. Call us now or contact us online to arrange your confidential consultation. Our firm helps employers with reasonable accommodation matters in Coachella Valley, Riverside County, and throughout California.