From the desk of Tracie DeFreitas, M.S., Program Leader, Director of Training, Services, and Outreach
JAN receives many questions about whether and when to request medical information when employees with disabilities ask for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), medical documentation to support an accommodation request should be limited to verifying that the employee has an ADA disability and information about the functional limitations that create the need for accommodation, assuming this information is not obvious (EEOC, 2002). When the disability and/or need for accommodation is obvious, documentation may not be requested. After an accommodation is approved, some employers later ask employees to recertify the need for accommodation by providing updated medical information (e.g., every few months or annually). This practice begs the question of whether it’s ever appropriate under the ADA to recertify an employee’s ongoing need for accommodation.
According to the EEOC, employers cannot ask for medical documentation when an employee has already provided sufficient documentation to verify the disability and need for the accommodation unless there is a valid reason to do so (EEOC, 2002). When an employee provides sufficient medical documentation to verify an ADA disability, there will rarely be a valid reason to request that the employee recertify the existence of that disability unless, for example, the initial documentation indicated that the disability was temporary. It may be more likely that employers will sometimes have a valid reason to request an update regarding the employee’s limitations and ongoing need for accommodation.
The following situations are examples of when it may be appropriate to request medical information to recertify the ongoing need for accommodation:
- When the original medical documentation or request for accommodation indicates that the medical condition and limitations, or need for accommodation, are likely to change. In this instance, an employer may have a valid reason to request information about a known or observable change in the medical condition/limitations/need for accommodation but not necessarily to re-establish the existence of the impairment. For example, an employee has multiple sclerosis and the medical documentation indicates that symptoms, limitations, and the need for accommodation may change due to the nature of the medical impairment.
- When no duration for the need for accommodation was included in the original medical documentation or request for accommodation or the noted duration is nearing expiration and it is apparent or known that the employee still requires accommodation. For example, a request to modify a schedule does not indicate for how many days, weeks, months, etc., or an employee was temporarily accommodated with modified duty, but the impairment did not heal as expected, resulting in longer-term limitations. In these instances, an employer may request updated information about whether the accommodation is still needed and for what duration.
- When there is a change in the employer’s ability to accommodate, the employer may seek information about whether alternative reasonable accommodations may be effective. For example, when intermittent leave for a chronic medical condition was approved but frequent absences are now causing undue hardship.
- When an accommodation is monitored for effectiveness and the employee indicates it is no longer effective due to a change in their medical condition or limitations, the employer may need information about these changes, the impact on performing job duties, and the need for accommodation. For example, the employee says their vision loss has progressed and equipment provided as an accommodation is no longer working.
- Don’t request new information about an employee’s medical condition to continue an accommodation when sufficient information to substantiate the existence of an ADA disability is already available. Do you merely need confirmation that accommodation is still needed? For example, if the original request for accommodation did not include a duration for the accommodation, a simple note from a health care provider may help confirm the accommodation is still needed and for what duration. It may be useful to ask whether the accommodation is needed temporarily, long-term, or permanently.
- When there is a change in an employer’s ability to provide a specific accommodation, consider whether updated medical information is necessary to explore and implement an alternative reasonable accommodation. If not, focus on identifying an alternative reasonable accommodation using the information that is already available about the medical condition, limitations, job duties, etc.
- Don’t require employees to recertify the need for accommodation as a way to monitor whether accommodations are reasonable or effective. Instead, encourage employees who have been accommodated to communicate changes or problems with an accommodation with appropriate personnel. This process should be about evaluating the effectiveness of the accommodation, as opposed to asking for new information about an employee’s medical condition. Have an open dialogue with the employee. Discussion may include questions like: Is the accommodation working? Is anything additional or different needed to support you in performing job duties, or meeting standards? Is there any change in your need for accommodation? In some situations, discussion may lead to a need to request updated medical information (e.g., employee indicates a change in medical condition or limitations), but this will be rare. JAN offers a sample form that can be used as a guide for monitoring accommodations. The form can be customized to gather information relevant to each unique accommodation situation. For more information, see JAN’s sample form for Monitoring Reasonable Accommodations.
For more information about the ADA and requesting medical information from employees, see the many articles included at the bottom of JAN’s A to Z by Topic page: Medical Exams and Inquiries or contact JAN.