When an employee or applicant with a known disability or medical condition requests reasonable accommodation, FEHA requires you to engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process to determine effective reasonable accommodations.
California’s disability regulations make clear that both the employer and employee shall exchange essential information in this process without delay or obstruction. The interactive process is an ongoing effort; it requires an individualized assessment of both the job at issue and the individual’s specific physical or mental limitations that are directly related to the need for reasonable accommodation.
The law doesn’t explain to what extent you must go in engaging in a timely, good-faith interactive process. At a minimum, you should meet with the employee or applicant to discuss possible reasonable accommodations. Be open to the employee’s or applicant’s suggestions. Be willing to try various accommodations in an attempt to find one that’s successful. Document this process.
FEHA states that an employer must engage in the interactive process “in response to a request for a reasonable accommodation by an employee …” In addition to a direct request, an employer’s obligation to start the process is also triggered when it “otherwise becomes aware of the need for an accommodation through a third party or by observation.”
The interactive process is a collaborative effort between the employer and the employee to determine what accommodation, if any, can help the employee perform the job’s essential functions. In the interactive process, the employer should consider the preference of the employee to be accommodated, but it has the right to select and implement an accommodation that’s effective for both employer and employee.
While California’s disability regulations clarify that direct communications between the employer and the applicant or employee requesting accommodation are preferred but not required, the DFEH has determined that a single brief meeting doesn’t count as an effective interactive process in reasonably accommodating employees.