The Department of Fair Employment and Housing recently began enforcing newly revised regulations addressing discrimination based on disability. The final regulations, which took effect on December 30, 2012, primarily update the old regulations. Among other things, the new regulations:
- include several updates to the definition of “disability” to conform to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 and the broad definition contained in Government Code section 12926.1;
- provide examples of disabilities including chronic and episodic conditions, and temporary disabilities. The new regulations note a few exclusions from the term “disability,” such as the common cold, mild cuts or abrasions, and the flu;
- clarify that the term “medical condition” may include a “genetic characteristic” (in order to conform to the federal Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act);
- add guidance regarding the phrase “essential job functions,” and specify that the elements of a discrimination claim now require the employee to establish that he or she can perform the job’s essential functions, with or without accommodation;
- provide more detail regarding the “interactive process” obligations for both employers and employees. Notably, an employee’s exhaustion of California Family Rights Act or Family and Medical Leave Act leave is now considered notice to the employer that the employee may need an accommodation; and
- recognize medical leave as a form of accommodation, but expressly state that employers need not provide “indefinite” leave.
Article courtesy of Thomas Ingrassia of Petit Kohn (www.pettitkohn.com)
Upon receiving a request for accommodation under the ADA, when the disability and/or need for accommodation are not obvious, an employer is permitted to ask for medical documentation from an employee. The purpose for requesting this documentation is to assist the employer in determining if the individual has an ADA disability by learning about the nature of the disability and the individual’s functional limitations. Of course, there is no requirement under the ADA to obtain medical documentation to grant an accommodation and often it is unnecessary. Employers are encouraged to focus less on who has a disability and more on making accommodations that are reasonable and effective.
Medical documentation often establishes the need for long-term accommodations for an employee who has a disability of an extended or lifelong duration. An example would be an employee with diabetes who needs a flexible work schedule to receive weekly dialysis. The accommodation of a flexible schedule could be needed indefinitely over the term of the individual’s employment and it is likely that the individual’s medical condition and/or need for accommodation will not change over time. Employers sometimes ask JAN Consultants if updated medical documentation can be requested annually from employees who are receiving long-term accommodations for ADA established disabilities. The stated purpose for such a request is to “recertify” an employee’s need/qualification for an accommodation. The following questions address this issue.
- Can an employer annually request medical documentation from employees who are receiving long-term accommodations?
Requesting annual medical documentation would not be prudent under the ADA. Where reasonable medical documentation that establishes an ADA disability was provided by an employee for the purpose of obtaining an accommodation, an employer will not have cause to request updated information on an annual basis. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an employer cannot ask for documentation when the disability and the need for reasonable accommodation are obvious, or the individual has already provided the employer with sufficient information to substantiate an ADA disability.
- What if there is a change in limitations and/or accommodations related to the same ADA disability?
If the medical information provided previously sufficiently established the existence of a long-term impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, then EEOC says that an employer cannot ask for documentation that the person has an ADA disability. However, the employer may ask for reasonable documentation that addresses the specific need for the accommodation (if the need is not obvious).
- Is an individual with a disability who is receiving a reasonable accommodation entitled to receive it forever?
While many accommodations are provided long-term, the EEOC has informally stated that an individual with a disability receiving a reasonable accommodation is not necessarily entitled to receive it forever. There are several reasons why an employer may stop providing a specific accommodation, or change the type of reasonable accommodation being provided. For example, a person’s disability may no longer necessitate a reasonable accommodation, or the accommodation might become an undue hardship on the employer. It’s important for the employer and employee to discuss any changes in accommodations. If an accommodation becomes an undue hardship, it may be possible to identify an alternative solution. JAN Consultants can help identify alternative accommodation solutions. Visit AskJAN.org for more information.
To learn more about requesting medical documentation from employees under the ADA, see questions 6 – 8 in EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the ADA. Also, JAN offers many resources related to requesting medical documentation, determining disability, and providing and maintaining job accommodations. Examples include:
- Five Practical Tips for Providing and Maintaining Effective Job Accommodations
- How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (Updated)
- Medical Inquiry in Response to an Accommodation Request
- Tracie DeFreitas Saab, M.S., Lead Consultant for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN)
We love the Job Accommodation Network. They are a true resource for employee and employer alike. I encourage you to check out their excellent and free video series by clicking here. Archived titles include:
- ADA Update
- Managing Emotions in the Workplace: Victims, Villains, and Heroes (by yours truly)
- Providing Reasonable Accommodations to Employees with Mental Health Impairments
- Understanding and Accommodating Mobility Impairments in the Workplace
- Profit by Investing in Workers with Disabilities
Upcoming titles include Harnessing the Accessibility Features of Mobile Devices for Use as Reasonable Accommodations, Current Events in Accommodation, Learn More About Accommodations for Executive Functioning, and more.
In the case of Jones v. Nationwide a broker was fired because he failed his Series 65 exam on numerous occasions and never asked for any kind of disability accommodation until he was about to be fired. The court said the company was in their rights to not allow additional time as an accommodation to take the exam. Because he was required to be licensed to do his job and because he never asked for an accommodation in a timely matter the employer won the case. Note he was also offered a transfer to a lesser job which he declined.
In this short video, Don Phin goes over the The Bermuda Triangle of Employment for Human Resources Departments around the country.
The EEOC is proud of its lawsuits. I used to be proud of mine too…until I realized thy cause more damage than good…even where there was bad conduct. According to the EEOC’s press release page these are the claims from just one week:
As you can see from the titles, disability and pregnancy leave have been major targets. Employers must do two things to better manage these claims: First, take disability requests and harassment complaints seriously. If you don’t know what to do, then get help. Secondly, get Employment Practices Liability Insurance. See the checklist on HR That Works. I bet every one of the companies sued that didn’t purchase it wishes it had. Also understand this – these settlements and verdicts are LESS than they would be if brought by private attorneys in state courts.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a revised publication addressing veterans with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The revised guide reflects changes to the law stemming from the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which make it easier for veterans with a wide range of impairments – including those that are often not well understood — such as traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to get needed reasonable accommodations that will enable them to work successfully. [Prior to the ADA Amendments Act, the ADA’s definition of the term “disability” had been construed narrowly, significantly limiting the law’s protections.]
As large numbers of veterans return from service in Iraq and Afghanistan it is important for employers to be prepared.
The Guide for Employers explains how protections for veterans with service-connected disabilities differ under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and how employers can prevent disability-based discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations.
Attendance policies that require employees to provide a doctor’s note stating the nature of the absence before the health-related absence would be excused could result in unlawful medical inquiries under the ADA. In a case filed by the EEOC against Dillard’s department stores on behalf of employees who were affected by such an attendance policy (EEOC v. Dillard’s, Inc.), the EEOC claimed that the employer violated the ADA when it required that doctor’s notes in support of an absence specifically identify the nature of the illness, or the absence would be treated as unexcused. Some employees were disciplined and terminated for these “unexcused” absences.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California concluded that Dillard’s attendance policy, on its face, permitted supervisors to conduct impermissible disability-related inquiries. Dillard’s policy required employees to disclose “the nature of the absence (such as migraine, high blood pressure, etc ….)” and “the condition being treated.” Such an inquiry by Dillard’s, the court held, may tend to elicit information regarding an actual or perceived disability and invited intrusive questioning into the employee’s medical condition in violation of the ADA. Indeed, the ADA regulations make clear that an employer “shall not … make inquiries of an employee as to whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” The court found that there was no evidence indicating that Dillard’s policy was job-related or a matter of business necessity.
This case provides a strong reminder for employers to review their attendance policies to ensure that they comply with today’s interpretation of workplace laws to avoid the EEOC’s scrutiny. The court did provide some guidance for Dillard’s, and employers in general, when it noted that “Dillard’s could have required its employees to submit a doctor’s note specifying the date on which the employee was seen, stating that the absence from work was medically necessary, and stating the date on which such employee would be able to return to work.”
A review of the EEOC’s press release from the 30-day period between December 13 and January 13 reveals the following:
Bottom line: The EEOC is cranking it up. Make sure you have your disability, discrimination, and sexual harassment training and tools up to date…or you could be the next press release!