Medical Documentation Under the ADA: Consider Now or Pay Later
A client recently presented our firm with an interesting and complex question regarding employers’ rights to request medical documentation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). The inquiry gave us the opportunity to review the law on this subject and to offer two important points that all employers should consider when addressing ADA-related issues. First, medical documentation issues can be difficult to recognize, regardless of an employer’s experience with the ADA or similar state and local law. Second, whether an employer prevails or loses in a dispute concerning these issues may be the result of only slight differences in the actions the employer takes.
Under settled law, employers may require an employee with a disability to provide documentation sufficient to show the limitation the employee experiences that allegedly requires a reasonable accommodation. Once the employee and employer move past this initial step, a dispute can arise concerning the extent to which the employer may demand additional documentation from the employee and the point when the employee has fulfilled all of the required obligations. The situations that ultimately require court intervention are those in which the employer demands supplemental documentation and the employee either fails to provide it or the employer finds the supplemental documentation to be inadequate. Courts must then determine whether the employer or the employee caused the breakdown of the interactive process.
Due to the complexity of the issues regarding medical documentation and the importance in understanding the applicable legal standards, an employer would be well served to consult with legal counsel before requiring an employee to provide additional documentation. For the same reason, a well-planned response to the medical documentation provided by an employee claiming limitations is preferable to a premature determination regarding the sufficiency of the documentation provided for the purposes of ADA-related compliance.