- An employee who turned down a telework accommodation without explanation had no failure-to-accommodate claim, a federal district court ruled Oct. 19 (Ali v. Scott Pruitt, No. 17-cv-1899 (D.D.C., Oct. 19, 2020)).
- The plaintiff, an economist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), requested a private office to accommodate his allergies. In particular, his impairment was exacerbated by co-workers' colognes. The employer instead offered the employee permission to work from home, but he declined.
- The district court found that the employee was responsible for the breakdown in the interactive process because he had, without explanation, rejected telework as "not a good option." The plaintiff's unwillingness to explain the rejection was inconsistent with the "flexible give-and-take" necessary for finding an effective accommodation, the court said, granting summary judgment to the employer on the worker's failure-to-accommodate claim.
Employers are generally encouraged to engage in an interactive process to identify possible disability accommodations once an employee expresses a need based on a medical impairment. While a failure to properly engage in the process isn't a standalone violation of federal law, it can serve as evidence of discrimination, experts have said.
Employers can show good-faith participation in the interactive process in many ways, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously noted, including meeting with the employee; requesting information about the employee’s conditions and limitations; asking the employee what accommodation is desired; showing some signs of having considered the request; and offering and discussing available alternatives if the request is overly burdensome.
However, as Ali illustrated, an employee is likewise expected to participate in the process by answering questions, providing requested medical information and more. Employers also may want to note that courts have consistently held that employees are not entitled to their accommodation of choice, only an effective, reasonable one.