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Employment Blog

Interactive Process is a Must

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on January 28, 2014
Filed under Employment

A recent decision from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Wisconsin) again emphasized the absolute necessity that an employer engage in an interactive process with an employee claiming a disability before making any decision regarding accommodations or continued employment by the employee.

In reviewing a lower court's decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the employer on a claim of disability discrimination by an employee suffering from narcolepsy, the Court of Appeals ruled against the employer and referred the matter to the trial court to assess the disability discrimination claim. The Court of Appeals did uphold the dismissal of an FMLA claim, because the employee did not provide proper medical documentation of a medical condition that warranted time off for medical leave purposes.

In overturning the trial court judgment, the Court of Appeals found that the employer made a decision to terminate the employee before learning of her covered condition of narcolepsy because she repeatedly fell asleep in the workplace. The employer asked for medical information from the employee to explain why she continued to have difficulty staying awake but then decided to terminate the employee before reviewing the medical information which indicated the employee suffered from the sleeping disorder of narcolepsy. The Court of Appeals was very specific in finding the employer was aware of the medical condition but did not engage in any type of discussion with the employee about the medical condition and possible accommodations that would allow the employee to be successful in the workplace.

This decision again emphasizes the absolute importance of engaging in an interactive process with an employee that is claiming a disability that requires some type of accommodation in the workplace. An employer is not bound to make an accommodation depending upon the specific facts but certainly must engage in a discussion with the employee before making any final decision about an accommodation request or even the existence of a disability that would warrant considering a possible accommodation. The failure to engage in an interactive process may not be an independent basis for liability but it is certainly a basis for a court to consider whether the employer has acted in a discriminatory manner.