From the desk of Melanie Whetzel, M.A., CBIS, Principal Consultant, Team Lead
Oftentimes the accommodation process does not advance quite as quickly or as smoothly as everyone involved would like. There may be many reasons for a slower-than-desired outcome, but just how quickly should the process take place?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer should respond expeditiously (with speed and efficiency) to a request for reasonable accommodation. If the employer and the individual with a disability need to engage in an interactive process, this too should proceed as quickly as possible. Similarly, the employer should act promptly to provide the reasonable accommodation. Unnecessary delays can result in a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Generally speaking, employers should move on the accommodation request as soon as they receive it. They should evaluate whether the request contains the relevant information needed in order to process the request. The relevant, needed information may include documenting the disability, particularly if it is not known or obvious, and the limitations.
Under the ADA, when an employee requests an accommodation and the disability is not known or obvious, employers can require medical documentation that the disability exists. The ADA contains a specific definition of disability: an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. When documenting that an employee has a disability, medical professionals may want to use the ADA’s specific language so the information will be helpful for employers.
The first piece of information to include is the employee’s diagnosed impairment. If the employee is hesitant to provide the diagnosis, a more general statement about the medical condition may suffice, but if the employer insists on having the diagnosis it should be provided or the documentation may be considered insufficient.
The next piece of information to include when documenting disability under the ADA is information about what major life activity the impairment substantially limits. There are two categories of major life activities. The first includes, but is not limited to, caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, sleeping, walking, lifting, speaking, breathing, learning, concentrating, thinking, and working. The second category of major life activities is major bodily functions, which includes, but is not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, and reproductive functions.
Providing Accommodation Information
Under the ADA, employers are responsible for recommending and providing effective accommodations. Employers do not always know what accommodations might work so it may be helpful to provide accommodation ideas that the medical professional and employee have. In addition to accommodation ideas, this part of the medical documentation letter should include information about what limitations are causing the employee’s work-related problems and what those problems are. The goal here is to help the employer understand the problem and start exploring solutions. See the following examples to help illustrate the information most useful to the employer:
Example 1: David has epilepsy and will experience difficulty with memory and concentration at times due to medication he takes. Because his work environment is fast-paced and noisy, he would benefit from working in a space that is as free from distraction as is practical. If possible, allowing David to come in an hour early to get work done while the office is quiet would be helpful too.
Example 2: Cheyenne has a learning disability that affects her ability to read information quickly and respond in writing. Screen reading software that also highlights what is being read would allow Cheyenne to comprehend information faster and more thoroughly. Templates of common written responses could help her be more productive.
See JAN’s Practical Guidance for Medical Professionals: Providing Sufficient Medical Documentation in Support of a Patient's Accommodation Request for more information on documenting a disability.
So, once the employee has submitted sufficient information along with the accommodation request what is s/he to do when the employer has not communicated back in a timely manner? It might be helpful for the employee to submit a simple written letter of inquiry into the status of the accommodation request. This not only shows that the employee is serious about wanting to resolve the issue, but also displays a good faith effort to work with the employer. Additionally, this letter documents the employee’s efforts to co-operate with the employer in the interactive process. The following is a basic sample letter that can be adapted to fit an employee’s individual needs:
I am writing to inquire about the status of the accommodation request I submitted on (date submitted). Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. I am willing to provide you with further information, if necessary, in order to process the request and assure the accommodations are put into place quickly.
Thank you for your prompt attention.
Hopefully, the accommodation process will progress expeditiously and the needed accommodations will be put into place swiftly and efficiently. But if not, a simple letter of inquiry may be all that is needed to prompt an employer to take care of the process in a timelier manner. For more complex situations or for those that need a more individualized approach, contact JAN for a consultation.