The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) specifies that employers with five or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations that allow employees with a physical or mental disability to apply for jobs and to perform the essential functions of their job provided it does not cause undue hardship on the employer.
To determine what reasonable accommodations an employee is entitled to, employers must engage in an “interactive process” when an applicant requests accommodation. Further, an employer is required to initiate an interactive process if he or she becomes aware that an employee may need an accommodation, either by third party, observation, or because the employee has exhausted all leave benefits but still requires accommodation.
Under FEHA, a California employer’s failure to engage in an interactive process in good faith and in a timely fashion is unlawful. The process must provide an individualized assessment of both the employment position and the specific functional mental limitations of the individual. Whereas reasonable accommodations address possible arrangements for employees to perform their job functions, functional limitations restrict employees from carrying out certain tasks. Functional limitations include but are not limited to:
- Mobility: the employee lacks the physical, cognitive, or psychological ability to independently travel or move about safely
- Communications: the employee cannot accurately and efficiently give or receive information without reasonable accommodation, adaptive aids, or technology
- Work Tolerance: the employee cannot meet the strength, stamina, endurance, or psychological stresses of a job; or cannot tolerate the physical environment of the workplace
- Interpersonal Skills: the employee cannot establish or maintain personal, family, or community relationships, or cannot interact appropriately with others in the workplace
- Self-Care: the employee does not have the physical, cognitive, or psychological ability to independently perform the routine activities of daily living
- Self-Direction: the employee does not have the physical, cognitive, or psychological ability to independently plan, initiate, organize, or make and carry out decisions in the workplace
Employees requesting a reasonable accommodation should ask their physician to provide a list of functional limitations for their employer’s consideration during the interactive process. To view a sample Request for Reasonable Accommodation, click here.