As we shared in a recent blog post, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a qualified employee with a disability is entitled to reasonable accommodations at work, so long as the accommodations would not pose an undue hardship to the employer. But what does it take to prove you are an individual with a disability, and therefore entitled to a workplace accommodation? Employers are permitted to require reasonable medical documentation in support of your request, but unfortunately, the lawyers of KCNF often see attempts at medical documentation that fall short of what the law demands. Here are some guidelines for preparing a strong letter from your healthcare provider in support of reasonable accommodations:
1. Include the name, severity, and expected duration of the impairment/disability.
Name the condition explicitly, stating its severity when relevant. In some circumstances, it may be helpful to explain common symptoms of the condition, especially where the condition is uncommon or not widely understood. The letter should also state whether the condition is temporary or permanent and provide, if it is temporary, an end date or expected duration for the condition.
2. Articulate the major life activities that are substantially limited by the impairment.
Explain which major life activities—referencing those articulated by the ADA regulations, such as caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, sleeping, walking, standing, concentrating, and thinking—the impairment substantially limits. These should be broad categories. For example, depression may limit someone’s ability to concentrate, interact with others, and sleep. Cancer, on the other hand, may limit normal cell growth and immune system functioning. See 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(i)(1) (containing examples of major life activities). Your health care provider should specifically state (if true) that you are “substantially limited” in those major life activities, as the law requires that an impairment do so to qualify as a disability.
3. Explain how the impairment impacts the completion of job duties.
Describe how the impairment impacts your ability to do your job, thereby establishing that an accommodation is necessary. This may require providing your health professional with your job duties, or at least a list of your typical duties. In many instances, this can be explained briefly in just one sentence.
4. Clarify that, with a reasonable accommodation, you can perform your job duties.
Make clear that either with or without an accommodation, you can successfully perform your job. This is critical, because under the relevant laws, an employee is only entitled to accommodations if they can perform their job successfully. If you have performed successfully even without accommodation, this will be easier. On this issue, the explanation should only be as long as necessary to make the point.
5. Recommend particular workplace accommodations.
Get specific. A letter that states an accommodation is needed but does not specify the accommodation(s) will not be effective. While you are not entitled to the precise accommodation your health provider recommends, the employer’s starting point for issuing an accommodation is the medical recommendation. Moreover, the recommendation is a strong reference point for assessing whether any alternative accommodations your employer may recommend are sufficient to meet your needs.
Following the above guidelines will yield strong medical documentation in support of your reasonable accommodation request. Is your employer still refusing to accommodate your disability? The lawyers of KCNF can help. Contact us for your free intake today.
Sarah Nesbitt is an Associate attorney at KCNF.