In our experience at JAN, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about medical documentation under the ADA. Employers aren’t sure what they can ask for, when they can ask for it, or whether the ADA Amendments Act has changed the rules for medical documentation. Employees aren’t sure what medical information they have to provide or how much to disclose. Medical professionals aren’t sure what documentation will be most helpful in getting their patients the workplace accommodations they need. Most of these questions come up when an employee requests an accommodation.
The good news: The medical inquiry rules that apply when an employee requests an accommodation are less complicated when they might seem. The general rule is that when the disability or need for accommodation is not obvious, an employer may require an employee to provide documentation that can substantiate that s/he has an ADA disability and needs the reasonable accommodation requested, but can’t ask for unrelated documentation. So when thinking about what medical information to request or to provide, think about what is needed and stop there!
Let’s start with the documentation needed to substantiate that the employee has a disability. The definition of disability for accommodation purposes is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or a record of such an impairment.” To determine whether an employee has a disability, the employer can ask whether the employee has (or had) an impairment. If yes, you can ask whether the impairment affects (or affected) a major life activity. You can also ask whether the impairment substantially limits (or limited) the major life activity.
This is where the ADA Amendments Act has made some changes. Although the definition of “disability” remained unchanged, the threshold for showing substantial limitation is much lower than before. This means that the documentation needed to show that an employee has a disability should be far less extensive.
What about the documentation needed to substantiate the need for an accommodation? The ADA Amendments Act did not change the reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA, so the rules for medical documentation likewise remained unchanged. An employer may verify that the accommodation is needed, ask questions about the employee’s limitations that are causing the problem, and get other relevant information about the request to help determine effective accommodations.
For more information, see recently updated JAN publications related to medical documentation, including:
- How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)
- Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request
- Sample Medical Inquiry Form
- Practical Guidance for Medical Professionals: Providing Sufficient Medical Documentation in Support of a Patient’s Accommodation Request and Sample Accommodation Support Letter
– Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant