Is an employer request’s for additional information a failure to engage in the interactive process?
According to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer cannot be held liable for discrimination or constructive discharge when an employee requests reasonable accommodations and voluntarily terminates the interactive process.
When an employee makes a request for a reasonable accommodation, an employer may request and require additional information and documentation regarding a disability before granting the accommodation. Once the request is made, the parties engage in an interactive process to determine the limitation(s) of the employee as a result of the disability and the accommodation that would be reasonable given the limitation(s). The interactive process is a collaborative one in which parties must not act in bad faith (purposeful delays or failing to communicate).
In Ward v. McDonald, a federal employee requested reasonable accommodations after being diagnosed with a condition that prevented her from performing daily light movements and required a three (3) hour self-administered medical maintenance procedure. As a result, the employee requested accommodations to work full-time from home. The employee submitted two (2) letters from physicians, as requested from her employer, which were followed by an additional request for more detailed information. The employer put each response to the request for accommodation in writing and outlined, with specificity, the additional information that was sought.
In response to the last request, the employee did not submit the requested documentation, but instead resigned from her position. The employee alleged the employer discriminated against her, resulting in a constructive discharge. The Court ruled that the employee ended the interactive process by resigning and “walking away,” and that the employer acted in good faith; therefore, the employer could not be held liable for discrimination or constructive discharge.