Both California and federal disability laws require employers to engage in an “interactive process” discussion with employees who have disabilities about potential accommodations. Employees who are unable to work because of an occupational injury may be considered disabled because “working” is a major life activity under California law. Many employers are used to having the workers’ compensation adjustor handle all communications with an employee who is on a leave of absence because of an occupational injury. However, employers should initiate the interactive process with the employee to determine if the employee believes there are any accommodations other than leave that would enable the employee to return to work. Although an employer does not have to provide accommodations that are unreasonable or pose an undue hardship, the employer should get the discussion going so that employees have an opportunity to discuss any ideas they have.
The Commission on Health and Safety and Worker’s Compensation has published a practical guide for employers about their obligations when a workers’ compensation injury occurs. The Guide is available at the Commissions website at http://www.dir.ca.gov/ch