The California Fair Employment and Housing Act requires employers of five or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with a physical or mental disability to apply for jobs and to perform the essential functions of their jobs unless it would cause an undue hardship. Reasonable accommodation can include, but is not limited to, the following:
- Changing job duties
- Providing leave for medical care
- Changing work schedules
- Relocating the work area
- Providing mechanical or electrical aids
Employees with disabilities may have separate rights to unpaid leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act or the California Family Rights Act.
Employers must initiate an “interactive process” when an applicant or employee requests reasonable accommodations. The employer must also offer to initiate an interactive process when the employer becomes aware of the possible need for an accommodation. This awareness might come through a third party, by observation, or because the employee has exhausted leave benefits but still needs reasonable accommodation.
In California, it is unlawful for an employer to fail to engage in a timely, good faith, interactive process. The point of the process is to remove barriers that keep people from performing jobs that they could do with some form of accommodation.
The process requires an individualized assessment of both the job and the specific physical or mental limitations of the individual that are directly related to the need for reasonable accommodation.
The DFEH has created a sample Request for Reasonable Accommodation package to assist employers and employees in engaging in the interactive process. The law does not require the use of these or any other forms to make a request for a reasonable accommodation or to engage in an effective, good faith interactive process. The use of these forms does not insulate a user from liability or create a presumption that discrimination did not occur. However, they may be a useful tool for both employers and employees.