ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the Texas Labor Code require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with qualified disabilities. A reasonable accommodation allows a disabled employees equal access to the workplace and allow them to perform the essential functions of their jobs. Many employers refuse to provide any reasonable accommodation. This results in a failure to accommodate claim under the ADA and Texas Labor Code. Under both federal and Texas law, employers are required to engage employees requesting a disability accommodation in good faith.
Employers are also required to engage in an interactive process to determine the need for accommodation. Failing to engage in the process is itself a failure to accommodate claim if the employer provides no reasonable accommodation. The duty to engage is a two way street. Employees must also engage the employer in good faith. Otherwise the employee’s claim is likely to fail. The employer cannot be held liable for failing to provide an accommodation if the employee refuses to engage.
Requesting a disability accommodation in Texas
Let’s work through the process for requesting a disability accommodation under the ADA and Texas Labor Code. The first step is to make an actual request to management or HR. The employee may ask for a specific accommodation or inform the employer that the employee believes he or she needs one.
The employer must work with the employee to determine whether the employee is disabled and what types of accommodation would be reasonable under the ADA. The employee and employer must engage in good faith to determine what is available. At the end of this process the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation if the employee has a qualified disability under the law.
The employer does not have to provide the specific accommodation, merely any that meets the statute’s requirement. This interactive process may be brief when the employer agrees to provide what is requested by the employee. The process may take a little time while the parties work out possible solutions. That is what should happen in the ADA interactive process.
How employees hurt their reasonable accommodation claims for disability discrimination
Employees get in trouble when they fail to follow through on their end of the process. So let’s identify how an employee might become a stumbling block to this interactive process. First, an employee might fail to make an explicit request for an accommodation. Sometimes employees think employers intuitively know the employee has a disability and needs one. The courts are clear that the employee must make an explicit request for an accommodation. Otherwise the employer has no duty to provide one.
Second, employees create problems when they make the request but then do not follow through and engage in the interactive process. In this scenario the employee makes the request but the employee is negligent in engaging the employer in the process. Here the employer is generally let off the hook because the employee did not act in good faith.
Third, employees defeat their claim by demanding the employer provide the specifically requested accommodation and refuse any other possibility. This is a too-common problem. Many employees believe the employer must provide what is requested if it is reasonable. Any reasonable accommodation satisfies the law. Sometimes employees make the request and insist that is the end of the discussion. That is wrong. Again the employer is usually let off the hook.
What an employee should do when making a disability accommodation request?
Employees must follow the law to make the request. An employee generally should request it as soon as necessary. Do not wait until your employer has disciplined you for work problems related to your disability. The employer does not have to take back any disciplinary action made before the request. Look at the employer’s handbook to determine if you must make a request to a specific person or department. Follow the employer’s process. If there is no specific recipient then make the request to your immediate supervisor or HR. Make a specific request if you have one in mind.
Make all reasonable efforts to follow up on the request and work with your employer to understand the disability and what you need. Working with your employer is the best way to not just preserve your claim but ensure your employer will provide one that works. Do not demand your employer provide a specific accommodation. Do not refuse to work with your employer or make legal threats. If you are concerned that your employer is violating the law then talk to an employment attorney immediately.