|Job Accommodation Network
Interactive Process Training Module
Slide 1: Introduction
Hello everyone and welcome to JAN’s Interactive Process. Thank you for choosing this module from the Job Accommodation Network, called JAN for short. JAN is a free service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
Slide 2: JAN Overview
As our name indicates, we specialize in providing information about all aspects of job accommodations. We also provide information on the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA for short, and self-employment for people with disabilities. All of the information and services we provide are available free of charge.
Slide 3: Why Have A Process?
We’ve been around for over 25 years so as you might imagine, we’ve heard just about everything there is to hear about job accommodations. Over the years, one thing we’ve come to realize is that it’s very useful to have a process to follow when working through job accommodations. A process not only helps insure consistency and successful accommodation outcomes, but also helps show that an employer has made a good faith effort to comply with the ADA.
Slide 4: ADA Basics
If you’re learning about the accommodation process for the first time or dusting off your process after years of neglect, you’re not alone. A lot of employers are currently reviewing, or developing for the first time, their accommodation procedures, mainly because of a renewed interest in the ADA after it was amended in the latter part of 2008. As you probably know, the ADA Amendments Act broadened the definition of disability; the rest of the law did not change. Everything you already knew about non-discrimination and reasonable accommodation stayed exactly the same. But, if more employees now meet the definition of disability, it follows that more employees will now be entitled to reasonable accommodations so employers want to make sure they understand what is required.
Slide 5: ADA Basics
And I’m sure most of you also know that one of the things the ADA requires is that employers provide effective, reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. To help determine effective accommodations, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the federal agency that enforces the employment provisions of the ADA – recommends that employers use an “interactive process,” which simply means that employers and employees with disabilities who request accommodations work together. However, the law itself doesn’t spell out what the interactive process will look like so there isn’t a specific process employers have to follow.
Slide 6: Interactive Process Flowchart
In this module, we’re going to provide you with a sample interactive process that can be used in any workplace. The process we’ve come up with is based on real life examples we’ve had of some of the issues employers face when processing an accommodation request. After each step of the process we’ve included one of these real life examples to illustrate the step.
Before I talk about our process, I want to mention to you that you may have a process that you think works better in your workplace, and if so, that’s great, continue using it. But for employers who don’t have an effective accommodation process, we hope that the information we provide today will be useful.
So let’s take a look at our step-by-step interactive process.
Slide 7: Step 1: Recognizing an Accommodation Request
The interactive process, as you can probably guess, starts with an accommodation request from an employee with a disability so it’s important for employers to be able to recognize a request. So what constitutes an accommodation request? According to the EEOC, an individual may use "plain English" and need not mention the law or use the phrase "reasonable accommodation" when requesting an accommodation.
That means that any time an employee indicates that he’s having a problem and the problem is related to a medical condition, the employer should consider whether the employee is making a request for accommodation.
If you think about it, this is a fairly easy rule to remember so even if you don’t train all managers and supervisors how to process an accommodation request from start to finish, you should at least train them how to recognize a request and who to notify that the request was made.
Slide 8: Example
Let’s look at an example. An employee is currently on leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act for a serious health condition. As he is approaching the end of the 12 weeks of FMLA leave, he notifies his employer that he will need additional leave beyond his FMLA 12 weeks. Do you think this is an accommodation request?
Slide 9: Example
The answer is yes! Even though the employee didn’t specifically state that he would like to request leave as an accommodation under the ADA, this is still an accommodation request. Remember, there is no specific way an employee has to ask for an accommodation. The employee informed his employer that he needs more leave and that the leave is needed because of a medical condition and that’s enough for an accommodation request.
Slide 10: Tips
Before we move to the next step, here are Tips for step 1: recognizing accommodation requests:
Err on the side of caution: If it isn’t clear whether an employee has requested an accommodation, the employer should ask the employee to clarify what is being requested and why.
Act quickly: Once an accommodation request is identified, the employer should respond immediately – unnecessary delays in processing an accommodation request can actually constitute a violation of the ADA.
Assign responsibility: Employers should assign at least one person to be responsible for making sure an accommodation request is processed so the request isn’t lost on someone’s desk.
Conduct training: It bears repeating – employers should train all managers and supervisors to recognize accommodation requests and what to do with a request once it’s received.
Slide 11: Step 2: Gathering Information
Ok, let’s move on to the next step. Once an accommodation request has been received, the next step is to gather whatever information is necessary to process the request. Necessary information may include documentation of the disability and the need for accommodation, unless the employee’s disability and need for accommodation are obvious. For example, if an employee who recently became paraplegic and started using a wheelchair indicates that he needs a ramp to get into the workplace, the disability and need for accommodation are obvious.
However, sometimes the employee’s disability and need for accommodation are not obvious or known or the employee may know he’s having problems, but may not know the exact cause or possible solution. To provide effective accommodations, employers need to know what limitations are interfering with job performance and what specific work tasks are at issue.
So how does an employer get the information that is needed? The employee who requested the accommodation is often the best source of information about the disability and possible accommodations, but if the employee can’t provide the necessary information, then medical documentation can be useful. The important thing to remember is not to ask for too much information. When an employee requests an accommodation and the disability and need for accommodation aren’t obvious, then employers can request medical documentation to help determine whether the employee has a disability and needs the requested accommodation and information to help process the accommodation request.
Slide 12: Example
Here’s an example of the information gathering step of the interactive process.
A teacher has received a poor performance evaluation. In response to the evaluation she informs her employer that she has lupus, which is contributing to her performance problems. She also tells her employer that she needs an accommodation. Do we have all the information we need to determine accommodation options?
Slide 13: Example
No, we don’t. We know that the employee needs an accommodation due to a medical condition, but we don’t know what her limitations are or what the specific problem is. This type of information is important because there can be a number of different things that can contribute to the employee’s performance problems. We have the basic accommodation request, but we need more information to determine what type of accommodation might be useful.
Slide 14: Tips
Before we move to the next step, here are my Tips for step 2: gathering information in response to an accommodation request:
Find out the limitation and problem. In most cases, to find effective accommodations employers need to know what limitation is causing what problem so this is usually a good place to start.
Get information from the employee when possible. Employees with disabilities are familiar with their limitations and often know what accommodations will work best for them.
Remember the ADA rules for medical inquiries. A good policy for employers is to only ask for what is absolutely necessary. Asking for all medical records will rarely, if ever, meet this test.
Slide 15: Step 3: Exploring Accommodation Options
Ok, let’s move on to step 3. Once we’ve identified the employee’s limitation that is causing a problem and we know what that problem is, then we’re ready for the next step: exploring accommodation options. At this step, employers should be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. This is the time to brainstorm and consider what might work.
Again, the employee who requested the accommodation is a good place to start so employers should always invite the employee to suggest accommodations. If more accommodation ideas are needed, the employer can ask the employee’s medical provider for ideas – in some cases medical professionals can suggest effective accommodations. In other cases, they may not be able to suggest ideas, but may be able to say whether ideas under consideration will help overcome the employee’s limitations.
And if still more ideas are needed, then employers should consult with outside resources such as JAN, vocational rehabilitation, rehabilitation engineers, and disability-related organizations. Remember when consulting with outside resources, employers must comply with the ADA’s confidentiality rules. One good way to do this is to simply withhold the employee’s name and identifying information from outside resources.
Slide 16: Example
So let’s look at an example of step 3. At JAN, we get a lot of questions from call centers. In most call centers, calls come in and are routed to an available employee, who needs to be connected to the phones most of the time. In our example, we have a call center employee with heart and circulatory problems. He needs to be able to take breaks and move around periodically throughout the day but allowing him to take more breaks will interfere with the way the employer routes calls. So if the employee can’t walk away from his desk, but needs to be able to move around, what else would work?
Slide 17: Example
Just because the accommodation requested might not be something the employer can reasonably provide, that doesn’t mean that other options aren’t out there. This is a good time to call JAN! It’s our job to help employers and employees develop alternative accommodation ideas, and this often requires thinking outside of the box. In this example we suggested that the employee use an under desk pedal device. So instead of getting up from his desk to walk and move around, the employee can use this pedaling device, which will meet his needs as well as the needs of the employer. Not only was this an effective accommodation option, but it was a very inexpensive solution – the pedal device cost around $40.
Slide 18: Tips
Before we move on, here are my Tips for step 3: exploring accommodation options:
Keep an open mind. Accommodations are about doing things differently to help overcome disability-related limitations, so keep an open mind when exploring accommodation options.
Invite the employee to suggest accommodations. The employee who requested the accommodation may have some good accommodation ideas, but may be hesitant to bring them up without being asked to do so.
Ask the employee’s medical provider for ideas. Some medical professionals will brainstorm accommodation ideas with employers.
Use JAN when needed. And remember, JAN is a free, national resource for employers who are seeking help coming up with accommodation ideas.
Slide 19: Step 4: Choosing an Accommodation
Okay, we’re up to step 4. Once accommodation options have been explored, it’s time to choose what accommodation to implement. If there’s more than one option, the employer gets to choose among effective options and can choose, for example, the lowest cost accommodation. However, when possible, employers should consider the preference of the employee. Why? We all like to have some say in the way we do our work and the equipment we use; it’s human nature. And when we have some say, we tend to be happier and more productive in our work. So while the ADA doesn’t require employers to give employees the exact accommodation they request, from a practical standpoint it makes sense to do so when feasible.
But what if the employer isn’t sure that an accommodation will work? One thing we hear from employers is that if they aren’t sure whether an accommodation will work, they’re afraid to try it because they think that if they try it out they’ll be locked in forever. This isn’t the case – employers are free to try accommodations and stop them if they don’t work. One thing employers might want to do when testing accommodations is to make a written agreement with the employee that the accommodation is being tested, how long the test will be, and what will happen if the accommodation doesn’t work. That way, no one’s surprised when the accommodation is revisited down the road.
Slide 20: Example
Let’s look at an interesting example of step 4. A customer service representative with diabetes had strong body odor that couldn’t be reduced until her diabetes was under control. The employee requested to work at home, but the employer was exploring putting up cubicle walls and having an air purifier in the employee’s work area instead. The employer was concerned about isolating the employee by having her work at home because the ADA prohibits unnecessary segregation. So how should the employer determine which accommodation should be provided?
Slide 21: Example
Talk with the employee! The employee should be part of the accommodation discussion, especially in this type of example. In this case, when the options were discussed, the employee expressed concern about the cubicle walls and air purifier drawing attention from coworkers and said she would actually prefer to work from home. By taking the employee’s preference into consideration the employer realized that a work at home arrangement would not be forced isolation so this was the accommodation chosen.
Slide 22: Tips
So, here are my Tips for step 4: choosing accommodations:
Consider the employee’s preference. Although not required, when possible employers should choose the accommodation the employee prefers.
Consider a trial period. When it’s not clear whether an accommodation will work, it might be possible to try out the accommodation.
Slide 23: Step 5: Implementing the Accommodation
Alright, we’ve finally chosen an accommodation, moving to step 5, now it’s time to implement the accommodation. This step is very important to the success of an accommodation. For example, if equipment is involved, then it needs to be properly installed and the employee needs to be trained in its proper use or it may just sit there, unused. If the accommodation involves a schedule change or policy modification, then certain managers or supervisors may need to know of the change to effectively implement it. If the accommodation involves an outside service, someone needs to make sure the service is provided promptly and effectively. If the accommodation is reassignment, then the employee may need time to get to know the new job.
Slide 24: Example
Let’s look at an example. A secretary with a shoulder injury and lifting restriction was given a lifting device as an accommodation. For those of you who may not be familiar with lifting devices, these pieces of equipment can range in size for use in small offices to something that can be used in a large warehouse. And, they can be helpful for all employees to use, not just those who need them as an accommodation.
Part of this employee’s job was moving bulk items from a storage closet and with the accommodation she could simply place the items on the lifting device and transport them to wherever they needed to go.
After the employer purchased the device, was there anything else that had to be done?
Slide 25: Example
Yes, there probably were other things that needed to be done. We get lots of calls from employees who have been provided with an accommodation, but have no idea how to use it once it’s there. Just like any other piece of equipment an employer purchases there may be some assembly needed and the employee may need training on how to use it.
In our example, the employer may need to assemble the device, establish a route of travel for the employee when transporting items, and make sure the employee knows how to safely operate the device, just as the employer would for any employee operating equipment.
Slide 26: Tips
Before we move on to the final step in our interactive process, here are my Tips for step 5: implementing accommodations:
Make sure all necessary steps are taken to implement the accommodation. A good way to do this is to check to see if the accommodation is actually working.
Communicate with essential personnel about the accommodation, but remember ADA confidentiality rules and only let managers and supervisors know about the accommodation when necessary.
Slide 27: Step 6: Monitoring the Accommodation
Last, but not least is step 6, monitoring the accommodation once it’s been implemented. This is an important but often forgotten part of the interactive process. In some cases, an accommodation stops being effective for various reasons such as: the employee’s limitations change, workplace equipment changes, the job changes, the workplace itself changes, or maybe the accommodation becomes an undue hardship for the employer.
Because changes occur, employers may need to periodically check on the ongoing effectiveness of accommodations. For example, if equipment is involved in the accommodation, someone may need to be assigned to perform maintenance or upgrades as needed.
However, the most important way to monitor accommodations is to encourage ongoing communication. Employees who are receiving accommodations need to understand that they should let their employers know if there are changes or problems with the accommodation and who specifically to contact.
Slide 28: Example
Let’s look at an example for the final step of the interactive process. An auditor with progressive vision loss from macular degeneration, which can cause blurring, distortion, or blank spots in an individual’s field of vision, started using screen reading software as an accommodation. Screen reading software is downloaded into a computer and can do a variety of things from reading the text on the screen out loud to changing the font and color of the text to a setting that is easier for the user to view. In this example, the software was provided a year ago and the employer recently purchased new database software. After installing the new database, the employer realized that the screen reading software was not compatible with the new database. So how could the employer have avoided this problem?
Slide 29: Example
Many products and types of equipment need to be checked periodically or updated to insure that they are still working. When new products, such as a database, or equipment are purchased it is important to remember the existing accommodations that are in place so that accessibility issues can be considered in advance. As we are all well aware, computer technology continually changes, so it’s important to always keep in mind that the software changes as well and these types of accommodations will likely need updated at some point.
Slide 30: Tips
So here are my Tips for step 6: monitoring accommodations:
Check on effectiveness. As things change in the workplace, accommodations also may need to change so employers should periodically check the effectiveness of accommodations.
Maintain the accommodation. Equipment will not function forever without maintenance so when equipment is part of an accommodation, employers need to make sure the equipment is properly maintained.
Encourage ongoing communication. For any workplace issue, ongoing communication is the key to success. The same is true for accommodations – employers should encourage employees to communicate any issues they have with their accommodations.
Slide 31: Contact information
And that’s our sample interactive process. We hope you find it helpful. In case you need more information, we have provided a handout on the interactive process and you can always contact us at JAN.
You can reach us toll free at (800)526-7234 for voice or (877)781-9403 for TTY or visit us on the Web at AskJAN.org. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networks. We hope to talk to you soon and again, thank you for making JAN a part of your training program.