California Disability Law: Reasonable accommodations and interactive process

The employer must engage in a “timely, good faith interactive process … in response to a request for reasonable accommodation by an employee or applicant with a known physical or mental disability or known medical condition. Although the law doesn’t specifically provide, the California court rulings make it clear that the employer must initiate the interactive process if the employee’s disability is known or apparent. An employer who knows of the disability of an employee has an affirmative duty to make known to the employee other suitable job opportunities. Prilliman v. United Air Lines, Inc. (1997) 53 CA4th 935, 950.

An employer “knows an employee has a disability when the employee tells the employer about his condition, or when the employer otherwise becomes aware of the condition, such as through a third party or by observation.” Faust v. California Portland Cement Co. (2007) 150 CA4th 864, 887. This means that if the employee’s medical condition is not apparent (such as diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.), the employer cannot be under a legal obligation to engage in an interactive process with that employee if the employer doesn’t know and has no reason to know that the employee is suffering from disability or medical condition. However, if the employee’s condition is obvious (a woman with an obvious pregnancy, an employee with a cast on his hand or foot, etc…) then the employer has to initiate the interactive process of providing reasonable accommodations to that disabled employee.