The employee, to prove a lack of an accommodation, or the employer, to prove the unavailability of an accommodation?
In Snapp v. BNSF Railway, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals re-affirmed that the burden squarely rests on the shoulders of the employee.
Danny Snapp, a railway trainmaster, suffered from sleep apnea, which ultimately resulted in his doctor certifying him as unfit to work in a safe manner. When his disability benefits terminated, rather than propose a reasonable accommodation that could have permitted him to return to work, he sued his employer for its alleged failure to offer him any reasonable accommodation.
The 9th Circuit affirmed the defense verdict, holding that the failure of the interactive process in this case rested squarely on the shoulders of the employee, not the employer.
Notifying an employer of a need for an accommodation triggers a duty to engage in an “interactive process” through which the employer and employee can come to understand the employee’s abilities and limitations, the employer’s needs for various positions, and a possible middle ground for accommodating the employee.