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7 Key Steps to the ADA Interactive Process: ADA Checklist

The ADA interactive process refers to the steps that employers must take to assist an employee with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers are obliged to provide “reasonable accommodation” to the employee unless it would present an undue hardship to the business.

But how does an employer determine a reasonable and effective accommodation? The employer must work through the ADA interactive process with the employee. This article will act as an interactive process ADA checklist to ensure that you honor your employee’s rights and meet your obligations under federal employment law.

What Is the ADA Interactive Process?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee with a disability. The law defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” and it guarantees certain protections to eligible employees.

The ADA covers both short- and long-term disabilities arising from a medical condition, a mental health condition, a workplace injury, or another cause.

When an employee’s disability impacts their ability to perform the “essential functions of the job,” the employer should initiate the ADA interactive process. This should take the form of a two-way dialogue in which both parties negotiate in good faith to find an appropriate accommodation that meets the employee’s needs.

What Is a Reasonable Accommodation?

An appropriate accommodation under the ADA depends on the individual’s disability. An accommodation should improve the employee’s ability to perform their job duties and/or provide a more comfortable work environment. Some possible accommodations include:

  • Improved accessibility in the workplace (i.e., installing a wheelchair ramp or providing an ADA-accessible bathroom)
  • Modified equipment, such as providing a more ergonomic work area
  • A screen reader or interpreter to help with visual impairments
  • Job restructuring or reassignment of some duties to another employee 
  • A modified work schedule, possibly including a leave of absence or a shift to part-time work that better suits the employee’s medical condition

The process for determining a reasonable accommodation can be abbreviated if the employee requests a simple accommodation or if the type of accommodation they need is obvious. Still, it’s a good idea to document each step of the interactive process and maintain a record of all conversations and requested accommodations.

7 Steps to the ADA Interactive Process 

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is in charge of enforcing the ADA, but it doesn’t dictate how you move through the reasonable accommodation process. Instead, the process of finding an appropriate accommodation should be as short or as long as it needs to be in order to reach a satisfactory outcome.

Follow these seven steps as a guide to the reasonable accommodation process, and use the ADA checklist below to make sure you don’t miss anything.

1. Identify an issue

Sometimes the interactive process begins with an explicit accommodation request, but in other cases, it can begin even before the employee mentions a disability.

If an employee appears to be having significant difficulty with their job duties, or if they mention a physical or mental health challenge that they’re experiencing, the employer should consider whether further action is required.

It’s the employer’s responsibility to honor their ADA obligations, even if the employee isn’t aware that they would be considered a qualified individual under the ADA. But the employer should be careful to avoid asking specific questions about the employee’s mental health or medical condition. The point is simply to determine whether a disability exists.

2. Ask if you can help

Interactive process ADA checklist: entrepreneur doing the sign language

The next step is to ask the employee if they need support. This could consist of personal time off, additional training materials, or a mentorship — the same kind of support you would offer any employee experiencing performance issues.

This provides an opening for the employee to make an accommodation request or to provide further details about their disability. 

If the employee doesn’t accept the offer of support, the employer is considered to have done their due diligence, and there’s no need to move forward with the ADA checklist.

3. Request medical documentation

If the employee does express a need for support or makes an accommodation request, it’s time to move to the next stage of the process: obtaining medical documentation.

The employee doesn’t have to disclose their disability, and the employer should avoid asking for specific medical information unless the employee volunteers it.

What you can request, however, is a medical certification from the employee’s health care provider that describes the employee’s limitations that might interfere with their job.

4.  Assess the employee’s job description

Once you have documentation of the employee’s impairment or condition, you can compare their limitations with their job description to see which job duties are affected.

The ADA requires the employer to provide an accommodation related to the essential functions of the job, not the marginal functions. So if the only tasks the employee can’t perform are minor tasks unrelated to the core of their job description, then you may not need to proceed with an accommodation and can instead reassign those tasks to another employee.

5. Brainstorm possible accommodations

If the employee needs help to perform the essential functions of the job, the next step is to work with them to create a shortlist of possible accommodations. Both parties can offer suggestions and weigh in on the pros and cons of each one.

In some cases, the accommodation may be one that the employer is familiar with and has already implemented for other employees. In other cases, they may need to do research to determine how much it would cost to implement.

For complex cases or less common disabilities, the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) can help if you’re struggling to come up with suitable accommodation ideas.

6. Choose an accommodation

The employee can say which accommodation they would prefer, but it’s up to the employer to decide which one to try out first. The employer can choose a less expensive or onerous accommodation as long as it meets the employee’s needs.

In rare cases, the employer may not have the financial resources to implement any of the proposed accommodations. Employers can refuse an accommodation if they can prove it would cause an “undue hardship” or if retaining the employee would pose a “direct threat” to workplace safety due to their inability to perform the job.

7. Review

The interactive process never really comes to an end. Even if the employee is satisfied with their accommodation, it’s important to regularly follow up and make sure that it’s working as intended and enables them to fulfill their job responsibilities.

If the accommodation falls short, go back to your shortlist of possibilities and choose a different accommodation, or initiate the brainstorming part of the ADA interactive process again.

Interactive Process ADA Checklist

The ADA is just one of several federal laws that offer employees protections in the workplace. Some employees may also qualify for a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and other employment laws.

Even when the process seems straightforward, use this interactive process ADA checklist to ensure that you cover your bases and have all of the documentation you need:

  • Identify an issue
  • Ask if you can help
  • Request medical documentation
  • Assess the employee’s job description
  • Brainstorm possible accommodations
  • Choose an accommodation
  • Review

Remember, you may need to go back and revisit some of these steps if the first accommodation you try doesn’t work out.

Streamline the Interactive Process with an ADA Checklist

Entrepreneur with a prosthetic arm talking on the phone

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to employees with a disability. But it doesn’t specify how to navigate the process and decide on an accommodation. Using this interactive process ADA checklist will help ensure that you apply the process fairly and consistently for all of your employees.

Pulpstream makes it easy to navigate the ADA interactive process with our cloud-based human resources automation platform. By following an ADA checklist, you’ll be able to streamline your reasonable accommodation process and your return to work program.

Request a demo today to see Pulpstream in action and learn more!