Podcast: Thinking Outside the œBlack Box: The Interactive Process of Disability Accommodations During Covid-19: When it comes to the world of requests for disability accommodations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (œADA) and the Rehabilitation Act, the œblack box or the œunseen internal mechanism, is the ever elusive œinteractive process. This is the process of information gathering and discussion between the employee requesting the disability accommodation and the employer who is obligated to determine whether the accommodation requested will be granted. I analogize this process to a œblack box because it is inherently opaque. Why? While the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act require that both employers and employees engage in this interactive process, neither statute precisely defines what it is or when it starts or ends. It is not clear what precisely the employer must do in this process or what the employee can and should expect. How long should the process take? How does anyone know if they are doing it correctly? How do we know the proper accommodations were considered?
Now factor in the public health, work place safety, and personal medical complexities of the Covid-19 pandemic and the concomitant work-from home revolution and the box becomes even blacker. Do employers have to offer the same accommodations to teleworkers that they offered to workers when they were on site? Are accommodations automatically available for those with health conditions that put them at greater risk for Covid-19? If a disabled employee was able to do her job during temporary telework periods due to Covid-19, is she entitled to continue telework after the employer resumes regular operations? More importantly, what is the specific œinteractive process that will be used to decide these issues?
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