Third Circuit Employment Law 101: ADA Reasonable Accommodation

It’s Monday morning. Johnny Lifts-A-Lot, an employee of Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware, Inc. tells his manager that he’s going in for minor back surgery in a week and will have trouble lifting heavy objects for the foreseeable future thereafter. What are Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware, Inc.’s obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Find out after the jump.

First, let’s assume that, after his back surgery, Johnny will be
considered to have a disability under the ADA. Therefore,
Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware, Inc. needs to engage in an interactive dialogue with Johnny to come up with a “reasonable accommodation” for

Interactive dialogue? Reasonable accommodation? What the heck is that?

So what exactly is an interactive dialogue?

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describes it this way:

It’s “an informal, interactive process . . . [to] identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations….Once a qualified individual with a disability has requested provision of a reasonable accommodation, the employer must make a reasonable effort to determine the appropriate accommodation. The appropriate reasonable accommodation is best determined through a flexible, interactive process that involves both the employer and the [employee] with a disability.”

The EEOC has outlined four steps involved in the interactive process:

  1. Analyze the particular job involved and determine its purpose and essential functions;
  2. Consult with the [disabled] individual . . . to ascertain the precise job-related limitations imposed by the . . . disability and how those limitations could be overcome with a reasonable accommodation;
  3. Identify potential accommodations and assess the effectiveness each would have in enabling the individual to perform the essential functions of the position; and
  4. Consider the preference of the [disabled] individual . . . and select and implement the accommodation that is most appropriate for both the employee and the employer.

As for a reasonable accommodation, generally speaking, under the ADA, we’re talking any one of the following:

  • Modifying or adjusting a job application to enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for a position;
  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by the disabled employee;
  • Job restructuring;
  • Part-time or modified work schedule;
  • Reassignment to a vacant position for which the employee is qualified;
  • Acquisition or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies;
  • Provision of qualified readers or interpreters; and
  • Other similar accommodations for individuals with the employee’s disability.

So, let’s get back to our fact pattern. Johnny comes to Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware, Inc. about his back woes. The company should sit down with him and have a chat. Find out what Johnny can and can’t do. Discuss alternatives to his current workload. Maybe you suggest that he be transferred to a less strenuous position. Maybe a back brace would help.

Remember though; this is an interactive dialogue. The company should ask Johnny what he wants. That doesn’t mean what Johnny wants, Johnny gets. But if Johnny makes a reasonable request that allows him to do his job without unduly burdening Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware, Inc. — a part-time schedule to allow Johnny to leave work early to treat with his physical therapist — the company should accommodate him.

It’s a lot easier — and cheaper — than defending a failure to accommodate action later on.