A Quick Meeting Is Not a Good-Faith Interactive Process

Employers should be open to employee’s reasonable accommodation suggestions.
Employers should be open to employee’s reasonable accommodation suggestions.
Employers should be open to employee’s reasonable accommodation suggestions.

A California school district will pay more than $200,000 to a teacher who alleged that the district failed to provide reasonable accommodation for her disability. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) settled with the district after finding cause to believe that a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) occurred.

The teacher worked for the district for more than 16 years. She complained that the district failed to accommodate her work restriction on reaching above shoulder level.

After a single brief meeting, the district concluded, according to the DFEH, that writing on the board is an essential function of the teacher’s job and that she could not be accommodated. As a result of the lack of accommodation, the teacher stayed out on leave until she exhausted all leave credits and her employment was terminated.

“When employees have disability-related restrictions, the law requires an interactive process, and that process is more than a short meeting without discussion of possible accommodations,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish, in a statement. “This settlement demonstrates why employers must ensure their agents understand what an effective interactive process requires in order to reasonably accommodate employees.”

California law requires employers to engage in a timely, good-faith interactive process with an employee to identify or implement effective reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Due consideration of the request is required.

If an employer denies the accommodation that is being requested by the employee, it must initiate discussions with the employee about alternatives.

The employer must:

  • Identify potential accommodations; and
  • Assess the effectiveness each potential accommodation would have in enabling the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.

Of course, the employee also has obligations in the process, including cooperating in good faith and providing medical documentation if the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious and the employer requests the documentation.

In this matter, the school district agreed to:

  • Pay the teacher $200,932.63, including compensation for her lost wages and benefits and emotional distress;
  • Provide the teacher the service credit she would have earned had she been allowed to keep working;
  • Credit the teacher for her lost sick leave;
  • Provide interactive training on the FEHA and the Americans with Disabilities Act to its administrators;
  • Revise existing and implement new reasonable accommodation and interactive process policies; and
  • Display DFEH educational posters at school sites and administrative buildings.

Gail Cecchettini Whaley, CalChamber Senior Employment Law Counsel 

CalChamber members can download the Reasonable Accommodation and Interactive Process Checklist from the HR Library. Not a member? Learn about the benefits of membership.

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