From the desk of Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., CLMS, Lead Consultant — ADA Specialist
Upon receiving a request for accommodation under the ADA, when the disability and/or need for accommodation are not obvious, an employer is permitted to ask for medical documentation from an employee. The purpose for requesting this documentation is to assist the employer in determining if the individual has an ADA disability by learning about the nature of the disability and the individual's functional limitations. Of course, there is no requirement under the ADA to obtain medical documentation to grant an accommodation and often it is unnecessary. Employers are encouraged to focus less on who has a disability and more on making accommodations that are reasonable and effective.
Medical documentation often establishes the need for long-term accommodations for an employee who has a disability of an extended or lifelong duration. An example would be an employee with diabetes who needs a flexible work schedule to receive weekly dialysis. The accommodation of a flexible schedule could be needed indefinitely over the term of the individual’s employment and it is likely that the individual’s medical condition and/or need for accommodation will not change over time. Employers sometimes ask JAN Consultants if updated medical documentation can be requested annually from employees who are receiving long-term accommodations for ADA established disabilities. The stated purpose for such a request is to “recertify” an employee’s need/qualification for an accommodation. The following questions address this issue.
- Can an employer annually request medical documentation from employees who are receiving long-term accommodations?
Requesting annual medical documentation would not be prudent under the ADA. Where reasonable medical documentation that establishes an ADA disability was provided by an employee for the purpose of obtaining an accommodation, an employer will not have cause to request updated information on an annual basis. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer cannot ask for documentation when the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are obvious, or the individual has already provided the employer with sufficient information to substantiate an ADA disability.
- What if there is a change in limitations and/or accommodations related to the same ADA disability?
If the medical information provided previously sufficiently established the existence of a long-term impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, then EEOC says that an employer cannot ask for documentation that the person has an ADA disability. However, the employer may ask for reasonable documentation that addresses the specific need for the accommodation (if the need is not obvious).
- Is an individual with a disability who is receiving a reasonable accommodation entitled to receive it forever?
While many accommodations are provided long-term, the EEOC has informally stated that an individual with a disability receiving a reasonable accommodation is not necessarily entitled to receive it forever. There are several reasons why an employer may stop providing a specific accommodation, or change the type of reasonable accommodation being provided. For example, a person’s disability may no longer necessitate a reasonable accommodation, or the accommodation might become an undue hardship on the employer. It’s important for the employer and employee to discuss any changes in accommodations. If an accommodation becomes an undue hardship, it may be possible to identify an alternative solution. JAN Consultants can help identify alternative accommodation solutions. Visit AskJAN.org for more information.
To learn more about requesting medical documentation from employees under the ADA, see questions 6 – 8 in EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA. Also, JAN offers many resources related to requesting medical documentation, determining disability, and providing and maintaining job accommodations. Examples include: