SF1939 must be heard in and passed out of the Senate Civil & Data Practices Policy Committee by this Friday, March 19th, 2021 to be considered for final passage into law. The Minnesota Council on Disability urges the disability community to contact Chair Mathews and the members of the committee and demand that they hear SF1939 this week and pass it out of committee. If you are a constituent of any committee members, let them know and stress the urgency of the Interactive Process Amendment for Disability Workplace Accommodations. Passage of this bill is a simple policy fix that has significant implications for Minnesotans with disabilities in the workforce, especially in the post-pandemic workplace.
Many Minnesotans with disabilities have ambitious career aspirations and dream jobs. They also want to provide for their families and loved ones and achieve the American Dream. However, a significant barrier to employment for many Minnesotans with disabilities is getting the reasonable workplace accommodations they need to perform their duties and responsibilities – accommodations guaranteed under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990). When denied disability workplace accommodations, Minnesotans with disabilities are unfairly judged against their colleagues. In 1899, Aesop Jr., in the Journal of Education, published “An Educational Allegory,” which inspired the oft-quoted adage, “You cannot judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.” The lesson is imperative when building an inclusive and accessible workforce. The interactive process for disability workplace accommodation is a federal law that ensures job performance can be judged more equitably.
On Thursday, March 11th, 2021, the House Judiciary & Civil Law Committee heard HF2010 – Disability Interactive Process Amendment for Workplace Disability Accommodations, authored by Representative Reyer (DFL 51B) of Eagan, MN. The senate companion bill is SF1939, authored by Senator Abeler (R 35) of Anoka, MN. HF2010 passed out of the House Judiciary & Civil Law Committee with a bi-partisan 16-0 vote.
In 2019, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that an interactive process – essentially a back and forth conversation about workplace disability accommodations between an employee and an employer – was not required when discussing a reasonable workplace accommodation. Currently, the Minnesota State Government cannot assist and provide clarity to employers and people with disabilities in the interactive process. This ruling puts employers at risk for litigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and makes it harder for people with disabilities to get workplace accommodations.
HF2010/SF1939 rectifies this technicality and explicitly adds “interactive process” language to the Minnesota Human Rights Act to realign state and federal law. This bill will improve the employment workplace experience for Minnesotans with disabilities and provide clear guidance to Minnesota employers on how to engage in this process, thus mitigating risk for potential discrimination lawsuits by the Department of Justice under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This bill is timely because the pandemic has radically changed the workplace. As employers create new flexible workplace policies, reasonable workplace accommodations required under the ADA may be unclear or overlooked. Minnesotans with disabilities are more empowered than ever to request accommodations from their employers. Still, it can be unclear to employers what a reasonable accommodation means in a quickly changing work environment.