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Does the ADA require that the employee participate in Interactive Process?

2018-03-16

Both employers and employees are required by the ADA to participate in the Interactive Process

As required by the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the “interactive process” is a two-way street between an employee and his or her employer.  A federal district court in Ohio weighed in on the subject when they dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former employee who refused to consider alternative pain management for his degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back in Sloan v. Repacorp, Inc. (S.D. Ohio February 27, 2018).   

Robert Sloan worked for Repacorp Inc. and spent between 10% - 20% of his time working on heavy machinery.  Repacorp terminated Sloan after they learned that he was taking both prescription morphine and non-prescription opioids.   In the year prior to his hiring, Sloan began taking morphine for neck and back pain but failed to tell his supervisors.  He also admitted to taking Vicodin on at least two occasions at work.  When the company learned about his drug use, they ask him to take a drug test where he tested positive for hydrocodone, the opiate found in Vicodin.  He was put on leave in February 2014 and terminated less than two weeks later.

Sloan filed suit based on disability discrimination and retaliation under the ADA and alleged that he was disabled because of degenerative disc disease and arthritis in his neck and back.  The President of Repacorp asked Sloan to consult with a doctor to evaluate alternative medications for his pain that did not include opiates but Sloan refused.  The court ruled “It appears undisputed that Sloan failed to cooperate with (the president’s) reasonable request for additional information concerning Sloan’s alleged disability.”  “While Sloan argues that Repacorp discriminated against him for terminating his employment without properly determining that he posted a ‘direct threat’ while under the influence of morphine...Sloan overlooks Repacorp’s main point, i.e. that Sloan’s employment ended not because Repacorp concluded he was a direct threat to himself or others, but because Sloan impeded its ability to investigate the extent of his disability and determine whether his disabling pain required use of prescription morphine, or whether a non-opiate medication could reasonably accommodate his disability,“ said the ruling. 

The bottom line is that the court found that “Sloan failed to cooperate and/or participate in the interactive process required of all employees requesting accommodations under the ADA.”  The court also dismissed the retaliation claim. 

The foregoing has been prepared for the general information of clients and friends of Workplace Dynamics LLC and is not being represented as being all-inclusive or complete. It has been abridged from legislation, administrative ruling, agency directives, and other information provided by the government. It is not meant to provide legal advice with respect to any specific matter and should not be acted upon without professional counsel.