Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Interactive Process

Does your heart start racing and do you experience heart palpitations when you hear the words “ Interactive Process? ” Well, relax and breathe! Heart palpitations are scary, but in the long-term, they are harmless to your physical health, which means you will survive handling an Interactive Process!

Interactive Process is Not as Scary as it Sounds

The “Interactive Process” can be a scary term for many Human Resources Professionals. My goal today is to show you that it does not have to be a scary term. There is nothing complicated with this process, it is indeed a very simple legal compliance. However, if it is not handled correctly, it could have serious implications for a company’s bottom line. I am talking about the devastating effects that could take a company out of business. You are probably saying “Great Elga, here I am sweating again”. OK, I will stop for a moment being dramatic, but it is true, it’s a simple process, I promise I will get to it, but if we don’t follow the Interactive Process, we could end up in hot water.

Having the Conversation

Have you had a conversation with an employee in the past? Of course, you have, you’ve had many conversations with many employees. That’s what you do day in and day out, unless you are a manager who “manages from a computer” and never finds the time to talk to his or her employees (not my favorite kind of manager). We talk and interact with our employees on a daily basis. Many times the conversations we have with them are regarding issues, concerns, or questions that they bring to our attention. Part of our role as leaders is to answer those questions and to remove the barriers and obstacles they encounter so our companies can enjoy the benefits of a productive and engaged workforce.

That’s it! That is what the Interactive Process is all about, removing the barriers and obstacles to employees who have a disability and need “something” in order to perform the essential functions of the job. That “something” is called “Reasonable Accommodation”.

In a nutshell, two simple phrases describe the Interactive Process: “having a conversation” and “having an accommodation mindset”.

During the Interactive Process we will determine:

  1. If the employee has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (if the answer is yes, then the employee has a disability under the ADA). We would know if they do by engaging the employee’s health care provider in the interactive process.
  2. What is the change/modification the employee needs to be able to perform the essential functions of the job. This is the part when we want to develop ideas of what changes or modifications the employee needs to be able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. Most of the time, the employee will tell us what exactly they need, but we want to include their health care providers as well. I also highly recommend researching accommodation ideas from the Job Accommodation Network website ( Always keep in mind that the employer is the one who selects the reasonable accommodation, you do want the employees and their health care provider’s input but you are the one who will select the appropriate, reasonable, effective accommodation.
  3. If the accommodation was effective after selection and implementation. The law states that the accommodation does not have to be “perfect” but it does need to be “effective” to be considered reasonable. The accommodation process is an ongoing process due to the fact that something that is effective right now may not be effective later on. If that is the case, we repeat the steps of the Interactive Process.

Keep Thorough Documentation

One of the most important steps in the Interactive Process is having thorough documentation of the entire process. Document, document and document! Keep good records of every single meeting you had with the employee, things discussed, ideas, implementation, health care provider’s paperwork, follow-ups, etc. This is what we will have to show to prove that we have complied with our obligation to engage in the Interactive Process.

Have an Accommodation Mindset

Here is the beauty of the Accommodation Process: you get to affect people’s lives in a positive way. Having an “Accommodation Mindset” is going to make this process such a rewarding experience. It’s all about leveling the playing field for employees with disabilities so they can have the same opportunities in the workforce just like everybody else.

You can learn more about ADA and the Interactive Process and other Employment Laws in our 2-Day Employment Laws Certificate Program starting November 12th. You can also earn 12.75 HRCI HR(General) re-certification Credits.