Employers are not the only ones with an obligation to engage in an “interactive process” under the ADA. Employees, too, must cooperate when requesting a reasonable accommodation. A federal court recently faulted an employee with a degenerative eye disease for the breakdown in the interactive process when he refused transfer from Pennsylvania to Alabama. Whelan v. Teledyne Metalworking Products (3d Cir., Mar. 15, 2007).
Whelan, who had been permitted to work from his home in order to accommodate his vision problems, refused to transfer to Alabama when the company consolidated its operations there to facilitate closer supervision and better communication among members of the marketing department, of which Whelan was a part. The court gave several reasons for its ruling that highlights the fact that employees, too, have obligations under the ADA. First, the court found that working from home – in Pennsylvania – was not a reasonable accommodation for Alabama-based Teledyne to provide to Whelan, the lone out-of-state marketing employee.
Working from home would deprive Teledyne of the efficiencies it sought to gain by consolidating operations during a financial downturn. Second, it was Whelan, rather than Teledyne, who failed to participate in the interactive process. Instead, Whelan demanded an accommodation – to continue working from home when all operations had been consolidated to Alabama – which the court found unreasonable. As a result, it was Whelan who was at fault for the breakdown in the interactive process required by the ADA.
Under the ADA, an employee has an obligation to assist the employer in determining a reasonable accommodation. This commonly involves issues like providing medical records and access to treating doctors. An employer will not be liable for a breakdown in the interactive process unless the employee can prove a failure to accommodate. The case highlights the importance of the interactive process, for both parties, in workplace situations involving the ADA.