Success Stories: The Disability Interactive Process
By Rachel Shaw
from ASCIP News
Communication. Documentation. These are the hallmarks of every good human resources practice. The same principles apply when it comes to the Disability Interactive Process — without implementing these, you open yourself up to the possibility of costly lawsuits. It’s important to invest in these oftentimes important final steps of a worker’s compensation claim to reduce overall liability concerns that can result from a failed reasonable accommodation process.
When someone is injured on or off the job and cannot perform one or more of the essential duties of their position, you enter into the Disability Interactive Process. While this may seem simple enough, those who have been through this process a handful of times will attest this is not the case.
Like almost all issues in human resources, the fact no two employees are alike means you will be hard-pressed to find two identical Interactive Processes. The key is to have a delineated method, with clear communication between parties. Why? Because, regardless of the result, be it a return to work or separation, you are more likely to have content and even happy employees and employers when everyone understands how and why decisions are made.
The structure of the process is fairly basic: understand what’s going on; explore all options; and bring all parties together for discussion and decisions. And, throughout the entire process — document, document, document.
Recently, a teacher served by an ASCIP school district, fell during a field trip and fractured her hip resulting in surgery. In addition to a worker’s compensation claim, a Disability Interactive Process was started for the employee to help determined if the teacher could be returned to work or provided an extended unpaid leave of absence. Initial activities included outlining the process for all parties so they understood what would happen and when, through a series of phone calls, emails and formal letters.
Then ASCIP went to work to obtain what is the most important first pillar — clear medical information. Once this was completed and it was established the teacher had permanent work restrictions she was invited to a reasonable accommodations meeting which she declined to attend citing her attorney had advised her against it.
In the accommodations meeting it was determined the employee may be able to be accommodated according to the restrictions provided by her doctor. Detailed notes were taken at the meeting, showing connections between the medical documents, the essential functions of the position and the school district’s initial decision.
After reviewing the notes from the meeting, an extremely gracious letter was received from the teacher clarifying she could not return to work. Moreover, she did not agree with the restrictions her doctor provided feeling they were not suitable to support her in performing the most essential functions of her position. She felt continuing in a classroom would pose a serious risk to herself.
In the end, the employee was medically separated and placed on the Education 39-month reemployment list. It was explained to her the reemployment list would allow her to return to work in the future should her health improve . Perhaps most importantly, the employee walked away from the being separated with an understanding of what happened and why. In addition, she felt she was able to participate and influence her own outcome.
Shaw is the founder and principal consultant with Shaw HR Consulting and often partners with ASCIP to ensure its members have the support needed when worker’s compensation claims result in permanent work restrictions. To learn more about the Disability Interactive Process go to http://www.shawhrconsulting.com.