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How do you handle unsupported accommodation requests?

When an employee develops a medical condition that affects his or her ability to function, employers have a legal obligation to make certain accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are times when an employee will make it difficult, at best, to do what's necessary.

Usually that happens when the employee makes a request for accommodations but doesn't provide sufficient (or any) supporting documentation showing what his or her condition is and why the accommodations are necessary.

Unfortunately, as the employer, you bear the burden to clarify why the documentation isn't enough and to make certain the employee has time to get what is needed. To save yourself any unnecessary effort, follow the tips discussed below.

If the need for accommodation is obvious, you don't need medical documentation. For example, if your receptionist fell and broke a leg, the nature of the injury and the need for certain accommodations (like someone else to do any tasks that require walking or standing) are considered obvious. You don't need further documentation to support the accommodation request.

Documentation doesn't have to be lengthy to be sufficient. If it comes from a qualified medical source, is detailed enough to make the impairment and the required accommodations clear and seems to be in sync with the accommodations the employee is requesting, that's enough.

You can (and should) ask for more documentation under the following circumstances:

  • The employee's condition isn't obvious or the accommodations don't seem to make sense for the condition described.
  • The medical documentation comes from a questionable source. For example, documentation and a request for accommodation due to a back injury are sent in by a psychologist.
  • There's no explanation about how the disability impairs the employee. For example, the employee has a "processing disorder" but there's no explanation about what that means in terms of his or her job duties.

You also have a right to ask for more documentation if you suspect fraud, but it's important to stop asking for documentation once you have the minimum required. Otherwise, you could be accused of retaliation or harassment.

For help understanding your obligations and rights as an employer when dealing with an employee who doesn't seem able to willing to provide the required documentation to support his or her disability accommodation request, talk to an employment litigation attorney today.

Source: Job Accommodation Network, "Accommodation and Compliance Series: Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request," Linda Carter Batiste, JD, accessed Sep. 15, 2017

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