The Connecticut Appellate Court will officially release an opinion next week that reaffirms that the interactive process required by both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state law equivalent to discuss a reasonable accommodation to a disability, requires the employee to engage in the process as well.
The case, Festa v. Board of Education, can be downloaded here.
The case is significant because ever since the Connecticut Supreme Court decided that state anti-discrimination laws contained a reasonable accommodation component a few years ago, the exact parameters of what that should look like, have been debated and discussed.
The facts in this new case, though are replete with an employee that, in the court’s view, failed to engage in the interactive process with the employer. In doing so, the court outlined what is expected of both the employer and the employee, quoting verbatim a federal Seventh Circuit court decision.
Neither the ADA nor the regulations assign responsi- bility for when the interactive process fails. No hard and fast rule will suffice, because neither party should be able to cause a breakdown in the process for the purpose of either avoiding or inflicting liability. Rather, courts should look for signs of failure to participate in good faith or failure by one of the parties to make reasonable efforts to help the other party determine what specific accommodations are necessary. A party that obstructs or delays the interactive process is not acting in good faith. A party that fails to communicate, by way of initiation or response, may also be acting in bad faith. In essence, courts should attempt to isolate the cause of the breakdown and then assign responsibility.
For employers, though, this decision is yet another case further expounding on the state anti-discrimination law. So far, both laws have been interpreted fairly consistently.
Employers ought to continue to be aware of their obligations under both the ADA and state anti-discrimination laws and make sure staff have been trained on what to do when an employee raises such an issue as well.