A disabled employee returning to work from a disability leave, starting work for the first time or recently being diagnosed with a condition impacting his ability to perform the essential functions of his position may provide certain medical work restrictions to his employer. Before permitting the employee to work, the employer is required to clear each of the identified restrictions by working through the interactive process to identify reasonable accommodations. An employer can still clear an employee to work – even if multiple work restrictions exist — by identifying an acceptable accommodation for each restriction under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Review the Work Restrictions
Review the employee’s medical note to determine the specific work restrictions. Determine whether the note is a recommendation — where the doctor suggests a possible restriction — or a directive, in which the restriction is a condition that must be met if the employee is to return to work. If the note is unclear, stating “regular five-minute breaks from keyboarding,” for example, ask the employee to obtain clarification on what constitutes “regular.” Alternatively, ask the employee to sign a waiver to allow human resources or the medical standards division to contact the doctor for clarification directly.
Identify possible options to accommodate the restrictions. The employer is not obligated to accommodate the restrictions in the specific way the employee has requested. If another reasonable method exists that meets the employee’s needs, it is the employer’s option to determine which method will be selected. For example, if the employee is restricted from keyboarding due to a wrist injury, he might request a complete reorganization of job duties, or ask for another employee to perform all his keyboarding — neither of which is a practical or cost-effective option for the employer. Instead, the employer could offer voice recognition software to allow the employee to perform his customary tasks on the computer without using the keyboard.
Conduct the Interactive Process
Use the interactive process meeting to explore all of the possible options for accommodating the restrictions. The interactive process should be an open dialogue between the employee and his manager or human resources representative. Listen carefully to the options the employee presents and don’t discount his suggestions offhand. Don’t make any promises or commitments during the interactive process meeting itself. Instead, note down all the employee’s suggestions and his responses to the options you identified and explain that you will consider all the options and confirm the decision in writing.
Gather any additional information needed to help you assess the possibilities for clearing the employee’s restrictions. Make the final decision about the type of accommodation to offer and put this in writing to the employee along with a summary of the meeting. Monitor the effectiveness of the accommodation to ensure it fully addresses the restrictions. As the restrictions change, continue the accommodation process until either the employee is recovered, the restrictions become so pervasive the employee cannot be cleared to work or the employee’s condition is deemed permanent — at which point you should consider whether the restrictions can be permanently accommodated.