All Employers Should Check Out EEOC’s New ADA Guidance For Employees’ Doctors

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By: Karen L. Piper

 

On December 1, 2015 the EEOC issued two new guidance documents: one for individuals with AIDS or HIV infection (“Living with HIV Infection: Your Legal Rights in the Workplace Under the ADA”) and one for health care providers of AIDS or HIV-infected patients (“Helping Patients with HIV Infection Who Need Accommodations at Work”).  The latter guidance for health care providers describes in detail the type of information doctors should provide to a patient’s employer to facilitate the patient’s request for reasonable accommodation.  Though written for health care providers, savvy employers should use this guidance as a template for requesting information from a health care provider of any employee seeking an accommodation.

Question and Answer 10 of the health care provider’s guidance answers the question of what documentation an employer can expect from an employee’s doctor when the employee requests accommodation.  The guidance recommends the doctor should provide: the doctor’s qualifications, the employee’s condition, the employee’s functional limitations, the reason the employee needs an accommodation, and suggested accommodations.

10. What Kind of Documentation Should I Provide?

Employers may require documentation that establishes your patient’s condition and describes how it affects job performance. However, you should not simply provide your patient’s medical records, because they will likely contain unnecessary information. Documentation is most likely to help your patient if, using plain language, it explains the following:

  • Your professional qualifications and the nature and length of your relationship with the patient. A brief statement is sufficient.
  • The nature of the patient’s condition. If your patient asks you not to disclose the specific diagnosis, it may be sufficient to state the general type of disorder (i.e., “immune disorder”). If your patient’s problems at work are caused not by HIV infection or AIDS themselves, but by a related condition, you may choose to disclose the related condition only.
  • The patient’s functional limitations in the absence of treatment. State that the patient’s condition would substantially limit the functions of the immune system in the absence of treatment. Alternatively, describe the extent to which the condition would limit a “major life activity” such as concentrating, seeing, sitting, standing, walking, or breathing, in the absence of treatment. If the effects on functioning come and go, describe what they would be when the symptoms are at their worst. It is sufficient to establish substantial limitation of one major life activity.
  • The need for a reasonable accommodation. Explain how the patient’s condition makes changes at work necessary. For example, if your patient needs an accommodation to perform a particular job function, you should explain how the patient’s symptoms – as they actually are, with treatment – make performing the function more difficult. If necessary, ask your patient for a description of his or her job duties. Limit your discussion to the specific problems that may be helped by a reasonable accommodation. Also explain to the employer why your patient may need an accommodation such as a schedule change (e.g., to attend a medical appointment during the workday) or unpaid time off (e.g., to receive treatment or recover).
  • Suggested Accommodation(s). If you are aware of an effective accommodation, you may suggest it. Do not overstate the need for a particular accommodation in case an alternative is necessary.”

There is no reason to limit this guidance to health care providers of individuals with AIDS or HIV infection.  If an employer should expect this type of documentation from the doctor of an employee with AIDS or HIV infection, the employer reasonably can require similar medical documentation from other disabled employees’ doctors.  For further information on applying this guidance to employees with other disabilities, contact the author or other experienced employment counsel.

This article was written by Karen L. Piper, who is Secretary of the Board of Detroit SHRM, a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, and a Member of the law firm of Bodman PLC, located in its Troy MI office.  She can be reached at (248) 743-6025 or kpiper@bodmanlaw.com.

Detroit SHRM encourages members to share these articles with others, inside and outside their organization, as long as its name and logo, and the author’s information, is included in the re-post of the article. December 2015.