The Importance of Participating in the Interactive Process for Your California Disability Accommodation in Good Faith (and Proving that Your Employer Didn’t)

Sometimes, the key evidence in your employment discrimination case focuses a spotlight on what the employer wrongfully did or did not do. Other times, though, your disability discrimination case may turn on the acts you did or did not undertake prior to litigation. That’s because, while your employer is obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation for your disability, both your employer and you are required to engage in an interactive process in good faith for determining what that accommodation should look like.

An interactive process is when employer and employee exchange essential information directly with each other to work toward an appropriate accommodation. One of the ways in which you can succeed in a disability discrimination case is by demonstrating that you engaged in the interactive process in good faith, while your employer did not. For the assistance you need in clearing this and other evidentiary hurdles, be sure that you have the legal advice and advocacy you need from a knowledgeable Oakland employment attorney.

The issue of good faith participation in the interactive process was a key to the outcome of the disability discrimination case of M.M., a civil transportation engineer for the California Department of Transportation. The engineer suffered from both physiological and psychological disabilities, including a heart anomaly, anxiety and depression. The engineer’s disabilities allegedly impaired his ability to sleep properly and, as a result, limited his ability to concentrate and to deal with stress.

M.M. eventually sought, as an accommodation for his disabilities, permission to work from home three days per week and from the office two days. He also requested that he receive a workstation in the office that was secluded away from his co-workers and the communal workspace.

The engineer submitted documentation from his psychiatrist supporting his request, which triggered the employer’s obligation to initiate an interactive process. The employer did so and determined that it needed more information from the doctor in order to make its best assessment of how to accommodate the engineer’s condition. The engineer never provided the supplemental information that the employer requested. The employer eventually converted him from full-time employment to part-time.

The engineer sued, but the trial court ruled for the employer. The appeals court later upheld that decision. This ruling did not indicate that remote work can never be a reasonable accommodation for employees in situations like M.M.’s. Rather, the court ruled for the employer, not because of the specific nature of the employee’s requested accommodation, but because of the way he went about the interactive process.

Specifically, the law says that an employer is allowed to “inquire into the ability of [the employee] to perform job-related functions and may respond to an applicant’s request for reasonable accommodation.” In other words, employers are allowed to ask for the information Caltrans sought in its accommodation form, and for the information that it later sought in its supplemental request.

By failing to provide his employer with the follow-up information that the employer sought, the engineer failed to engage in the interactive process in good faith. An employee’s failure to engage in the interactive process in good faith can often be fatal to his disability discrimination lawsuit. Had the engineer provided the supplemental information the employer sought, he would undeniably have had a stronger case and a better chance of succeeding.

Maximizing your odds of success in your disability discrimination case requires many things, including the insight and knowledge of an experienced Oakland employment attorney. For reliable legal representation in your discrimination case, count on the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Attorney Fuerch has been helping victims of workplace discrimination to get the positive outcomes they deserve for many years. Contact us through the website or call the office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.