Under California law, employees have the right to “a reasonable accommodation” for known physical or mental disabilities. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940 (m). This begs the question, what is a reasonable accommodation. At a minimum, a reasonable accommodation includes, but it not limited to, making a facility used by an employee accessible and usable; restructuring a job through means such as a modified work schedule or reassignment to a vacant position; modifying of equipment; adjusting exams, training materials or policies; and/or providing qualified readers or interpreters. Cal. Gov. Code § 12926 (p).
Practically speaking, for an employee to ask for an accommodation, the employee must trust that the employer will listen to them. In an effort to encourage this dialogue, California law also requires an employer to engage in an informal interactive process to determine what a reasonable accommodation might be for that employee. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940 (n).
Indeed, California Government Code Section 12926.1 states “[t]he Legislature affirms the importance of the interactive process between the applicant or employee and the employer in determining a reasonable accommodation.” Moreover, an employer is required to and “shall” begin the interactive process when the employee with a known disability or medical condition requests a reasonable accommodation, or when the employer “becomes aware of the need for an accommodation…by observation…” Cal. Code of Regs. §11069(b).
Notably, in limited cases an employer can deny accommodation requests after engaging with the employee, if the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation “impose[s] an undue hardship” on the employer. Cal. Gov. Code § 12940 (m); Cal. Code Regs. §11068 (a).