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Skeptical of an employee’s ‘disability’? Ask for certification

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

When an employee requests a work accommodation for a claimed disability, the ADA requires you to explore possible solutions with the worker. While you shouldn’t put off those discussions, first make sure the employee meets the ADA definition of “disabled,” thus entitling him or her to accommodation.

Your first step: Ask for medical documentation. When you review it, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Unlike the FMLA, which requires you to ask for (and pay for) a second opinion, nothing in the ADA prevents you from obtaining more information from the employee’s doctor.

If the clarification doesn’t convince you that the employee’s health condition “substantially impairs a major life function,” you can deny the accommodation request.

Recent case: Angel Garcia, a registered nurse at the Fulton Correctional Facility in the Bronx, worked the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. shift. Because he suffered from sleep apnea, he asked to work a later shift.

His doctor wrote him a note recommending a shift change “due to his severe sleep apnea and his inability to get a sufficient amount of sleep.”

The prison allowed Garcia to come in an hour later while it sought more information. It asked his doctor for specifics, including certification that Garcia’s sleep apnea substantially impaired a major life function. As it turned out, the doctor confessed to writing the note as a favor and didn’t think Garcia needed to work a later shift.

Garcia sued under the ADA, demanding accommodation. But the court dismissed the case. Since his own doctor said he didn’t need the accommodation, he wasn’t entitled to it. (Garcia v. Department of Correctional Services, No. 05-CV-5138, SD NY, 2006)  

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