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Being Heard: The Interactive Process

Yesterday, we talked about how to draft an accommodation request letter to human resources and student affairs. Today, we will talk about the additional paperwork that you will need to complete your request.

If you have not started already, you will need to begin collecting medical documentation from your medical providers (primarily, your psychologist, your psychiatrist, and/or your primary care physician). From my experience, it helps to pre-fill any forms required in advance, so when you do meet with your physicians, there will be little additional work for them to complete your request.

Generally, you will need the following forms completed and/or by your healthcare providers for further consideration of your accommodation by your institution:

  1. Medical release form. This will grant your institution permission to contact your medical providers if they need any supplementary information.

  2. Healthcare provider letter. This should be similar to the letter you originally drafted and worked on with JAN, albeit from your healthcare provider's point-of-view. Similarly, you will want them to assure your employer that you can do all essential job functions with reasonable accommodations.

  3. Additional paperwork from HR. If done correctly, these additional forms should be largely redundant to the letter you have your medical providers prepare. However, HR will require this as an extra precaution, in case certain things were not addressed in the letter.

You will need all of these completed for each healthcare provider you need to substantiate your claims for disability (typically, a maximum of 2-3 different providers, although this could be more, if you see multiple specialists for multiple disabilities).

You will want this paperwork completed shortly after you submit your request to HR and student affairs, because, from the moment they receive your initial letter, the clock is ticking. As is the case with most situations, the burden of proof is on you as the employee. Even though it's a double-standard, your institution will not have to work as hard and diligently as you during this process.

Another thing I would like to emphasize is that the accommodation process is inherently an interactive process. This means that HR and/or student affairs should be making an effort to establish and maintain contact with you, while they are deliberating over your request.

Finally, please be aware that although HR has to take your request seriously under federal law, it does not have to agree to all of your requests, provided that your request is either:

a. Unreasonable

b. Causes undue hardship to the company/institution

c. Both

Whatever the case may be, HR and student affairs must provide an appropriate reason as to why they either partially or completely reject your request for accommodations.

If there response to your request is inappropriate, you have the opportunity to refute their decision(s) as part of the interactive process. You can provide a counter-argument that further supports your need for the accommodation, or why you feel that it will not cause undue hardship. Ultimately, if you feel like your employer is not being reasonable during the interactive process, you should consider either requesting mediation services (if you have not already done so), or consider whether their response is retaliatory in nature. If you feel that you have been retaliated against at all in response to your request, you should immediately stop discussing with your institution, and consider filing charges, primarily either through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). You can consider reaching out to additional agencies, however we recommend starting of with either of those two for now. Don't agree to any additional paperwork or forms, if they seem retaliatory to you. If you are feeling pressured into providing a response, you may seek legal counsel, or again, request mediation services. We will discuss the OFCCP, EEOC, and FMCS (Federal Mediation Contract Services) in later articles.

As a final resource, you can consider speaking to your institution's ombudsperson, if you feel that you can trust them not to be biased against you. An ombudsperson's job is to serve as a mediator, so that you don't need to request outside services, such as the FMCS. However, not all institutions have an ombudspeople on staff, or you may not trust them, which is why we recommend the FMCS as an autonomous third party.

This concludes our discussion on requesting accommodations. Next, we will take a brief break on the accommodation/grievance pipeline and start discussing federal and state agencies that you can reach out to to further assist your case, as applicable. As always, luck with your situation, and please feel free to contact the GSAG, if you have any questions or comments!

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