Part of the magic of the reasonable accommodation interactive process is the two-party conversation that takes place. The success of the conversation predicts the success of a mutually agreed upon solution. A difficult conversation points to a less successful process.
As background, the interactive process (IP) is the vessel that holds the actual conversation, all of the documents related to the request for accommodation, the medical confirmation of the presence of an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, the history of the employer reaching out to accommodation specialists to identify a safe and effective solution, the cost of the solution, and agreements about when and how to implement the solution.
The interactive conversation (IC) is a subset of the larger IP. And one of the most important events in the flow of IC is the initial “interview” between the employee at the center of the request and the company’s appointed manager of the request.
A goal of the IC interview is to establish a cooperative, “good faith” tone for the series of conversations that will follow. Another objective of the interview is to make an initial assessment of the attitude of the requestor toward the process that lies ahead. And finally, gathering information about the nexus between the individual’s physical, cognitive, or emotional challenge and the demands of the job is begun in the IC.
The most difficult interactive processes and conversations occur when the verbal conversation is one-sided. One trigger to this unilateral discussion can be an employee’s focus on one very specific solution (leave, change in work schedule, removal of an essential function, change of a supervisor or other team member, or transfer to another position or location). Another trigger may be embarrassment relative to a medical condition underlying the need for accommodation. And among other reasons, fear of retaliation or creation of a negative environment may be both the resistance to requesting an accommodation and the subsequent good faith participation in process.
A suggested technique for opening up a one-sided conversation is to focus on two of the three elements of the “One Person, One Job, One Accommodation” formula. These two elements are the One Person to One Job nexus. When I do this I keep in mind the concept of “nexus” which implies the interconnection between two or more states of being.
I suggest creating an opening in the conversation by asking questions that will illuminate the “One Person” functional issue at the heart of the request. A handy and trusted tool I use to document functional issue(s) comes from the 1982 publication Work Tolerance Screening by Dr. Leonard Matheson. (That’s right, 30 years later we are still dealing with the same issues!) The tool is called “The Functional Tolerance Profile” or FTP.
Let’s keep in mind here that the employee has self-disclosed the need for an accommodation. By the end of the initial interview we will record when and how the initial disclosure took place. And, if need be, we will refer to an authorized medical professional to document the underlying impairment. Our focus now is to ask question to illuminate the work/functional consequence of the self-disclosed condition. We are not doubting the existence of an impairment nor are we judging the likelihood that such an impairment challenges the individual to the level of the current dysfunction.
The FTP is a one page document which lists the physical demands related to work; another version lists demands related to cognition. Pain is not included on the form as this is a focus on function and ability, not disability.
Using simple conversational technique, the interviewer guides the employee through a description of the functional challenge presented by the disability. It adds to the understanding of the functional impact of the disability in question. And, in the end, it lays the foundation for the desired effect or outcome of the solution which may be considered.