Interactive Process Key to Accommodating Employee with Disability

We have a new hire who, after being hired, disclosed a physical disability. She indicated that we need to accommodate her, and I have since read a little about how to handle this, but I’m not sure how to proceed.

Both state and federal laws protect individuals with disabilities. Employers are required to make a reasonable accommodation when an employee discloses they have a disability, and not all disabilities are obvious.

Interactive Process

A key part of the reasonable accommodation is the “interactive process.” This process requires both parties, employer and employee, to sit down and discuss ways to adjust the job duties so as to allow the disabled individual to do their job.

Interactive means the employee is equally responsible for coming up with ideas and solutions to enable them to perform the job duties. This conversation enables the employer to gather information and work with the employee to explore accommodations and alternative ways for the individual to perform the job.

The disabled employee typically has unique knowledge of their limitations, and can provide ideas. In addition, the employee’s doctor often can provide helpful input.

The HR California website, presented by CalChamber, offers a “Reasonable Accommodation and Interactive Process” checklist and a form titled “Reasonable Accommodation Request.” This form (also available in Spanish) can guide the employer through collecting the information needed for the reasonable accommodation, including the medical information.

It is critical to keep the medical information private, and it should be kept in the employee’s medical file, not the personnel file.

Good Records

Key to the accommodation process is having good records, and taking notes of any conversations and ideas proposed by both sides. There are times, however, that regardless of any efforts, there will be no way to accommodate the disabled employee. This is why the records need to reflect the efforts made by the employer as a defense against any claim of disability discrimination.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at