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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to allow a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of his/her job unless an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

A “qualified individual” is defined as a person who can perform the essential functions of the job he holds or desires, with or without a reasonable accommodation. The individual must satisfy the requisite skill, experience, education, and other requirements of the job.

The initial burden is on the employee to inform the employer of a need for an accommodation for his disability. This triggers an employer’s obligation to engage in the “interactive process” to determine whether a reasonable accommodation can be made.  The employee is not entitled to dictate what the accommodation must be – rather both the employer and the employee must participate in the interactive process to determine whether a requested accommodation is reasonable or would cause undue hardship to the employer. Undue hardship may include financial difficulty to the employer or undue disruption to the operation of the business.

A recent case decided by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio held that employees must engage in the interactive process equally with their employers.

In this case an employee worked with dangerous machinery.  The company handbook required all employees to notify management if they take any medication that could interfere with the safe performance of their job.  Employee suffered from neck and back pain for which he began taking a prescribed morphine-based medication, as well as Vicodin which he obtained from his mother and a coworker. He did not inform his  supervisors that he was taking prescription morphine. He was removed from the production floor when the employer learned of his solicitation of Vicodin from other employees.  A required drug test was positive for the opiate found in Vicodin.

Employer asked for information from his doctor regarding his medications, whether he could safely perform his job, and whether he could have alternative treatment that didn’t include opiates. Employee refused to consult with his physician and refused  to stop taking his medications.

Employer advised that it had no jobs that could accommodate use of morphine in the workplace and terminated employee.  Employee filed suit, alleging that employer failed to reasonably accommodate his request to use morphine.

The court held that employer had a reasonable basis to believe that employee could not perform his job under the influence of opiates.  By rejecting the request that he meet with his Dr., employee failed to participate in the interactive process