The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee or applicant if the accommodation is necessary to enable the employee or applicant to perform the essential functions of the job and will not result in undue hardship to the employer.  In some circumstances, an employer may be required to engage in an “interactive process” with the employee or applicant to determine whether accommodation is necessary or what type of accommodation is necessary.

What is the Interactive Process?  The “interactive process” is an informal dialogue between the employer and the employee or applicant in potential need of an accommodation.  The interactive process has two primary objectives:

  1. To identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability of the employee or applicant; and
  2. To identify potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.

See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3).  While employees are generally responsible for requesting an accommodation, employers should typically initiate the interactive process when the potential need for accommodation is obvious.

Takeaway:  In some cases, engaging in the interactive process with an employee can be an important part of an employer’s compliance with the ADA.  Knowing when to implement the interactive process and what objectives should be accomplished by the interactive process can help employers reduce the potential for liability.