Do You Need a Doctor’s Note When Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation?

Lawyers for Requesting and Receiving Reasonable Accommodations

You may need a doctor’s note to arrange for a reasonable accommodation in a New York City workplace if your disability isn’t obvious. Employers may not understand your disability or what changes in the workplace would provide an appropriate accommodation. The doctor’s note can indicate your disability and your limitations. After you ask for a reasonable accommodation, your employer may ask for medical information as part of an interactive process. If you are concerned about whether you need a doctor's note for a reasonable accommodation, you should discuss your situation with the experienced New York City employment discrimination lawyers of Phillips & Associates. We provide free consultations and represent clients on a contingency fee basis.

Under the New York State Human Rights Law, which applies to every employer in the state, if you ask for an accommodation and the need for an accommodation is not obvious, or your employer doesn’t believe one is necessary, it can ask for documentation or require a medical exam to identify your functional limitations to support the request. The reasonable accommodation must consider your specific abilities and functional limits as a worker with a disability, as well as the specific functional requirements of a specific job. Your employer’s focus must be on identifying your restrictions and abilities, not on diagnosis or prognosis of your physical or mental condition; a doctor’s note can specify what your abilities are and what accommodations may work for you given any restrictions.

How Does a Doctor’s Note Help You in Obtaining a Reasonable Accommodation?

Disabled workers encounter substantial barriers in the workplace. Reasonable accommodations are actions taken with regard to workplace policies or procedures that would allow an employee or job applicant who has a disability to perform job tasks in New York City workplaces. They can include:

  • Provision of a worksite that is accessible to the disabled person
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment
  • Job restructuring
  • Modified work schedules
  • Support services for those with impaired hearing revision
  • Reassignment to an available job
  • Training materials
  • Adjustment of examinations.

In general, the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law provide stronger protection than the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The City’s standards are more relaxed, and the city statute covers more employees. The state law covers workplaces even if they have only 1 employee. The city law covers workplaces so long as they have at least 4 employees.

Regardless of its size, your employer should protect and maintain the privacy and confidentiality of any medical information you provide in order to figure out an appropriate reasonable accommodation. Both state and federal laws include strict limits on the use of any medical information your employer gets through the reasonable accommodation process. These restrictions on use of information also cover information obtained from medical exams or in inquiries of employees or job applicants.

The medical information provided by your doctor needs to be treated as a confidential medical record. Your employer must get your consent before sharing confidential information with others, including unions, about your disability. Your employer should take steps to require security of your medical information. For instance, it should keep the note and other medical information in files in a secure location distinct from personnel files. Employers must also designate a particular person to have access to the medical file.

Supervisors and managers aren’t entitled to copies of medical records or particular medical information and should only be informed about needed limitations on your work or job duties in connection with provision of accommodations.

Doctor’s Note for Reasonable Accommodations Under City Law

The New York City Human Rights Law mandates that an employer within the five boroughs who has at least 4 workers provide a reasonable accommodation that would allow someone with a disability to satisfy essential job requisites. However, the disability must have been known by your employer. Under the NYCHRL, a reasonable accommodation will be provided if it doesn’t cause undue hardship in the conduct of your employer’s business. A doctor’s note can go towards helping your employer understand the scope of your disability and what accommodations it could provide that would remove the barrier to your ability to work.

In New York City, there is an affirmative defense your employer might raise if your case is one in which it disputes the need for reasonable accommodation. Specifically, under the city law, it’s an affirmative defense that you could not, with a reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job. Unfortunately, this means your employer may accommodate your work restrictions but begin a process of writing you up for negative performance in order to be able to terminate or demote you to a lesser paying position. Proper documentation of your need for an accommodation, as well as representation from an experienced attorney, can make a difference to your claim.

Doctor's Note for a Reasonable Accommodations Under Federal Law

A doctor’s note may assist you in obtaining a reasonable accommodation under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if your company has at least 15 employees. Employers need to provide reasonable accommodations that would permit employees who are disabled to do jobs. However, your employer doesn’t need to give the specific accommodation you requested. It can suggest different accommodations that would allow you to work effectively. Employers don’t need to provide an accommodation that generates an undue hardship considering the employer’s sizes and resources.

The doctor’s note can educate your employer about your condition, which can make it more straightforward to find an effective accommodation. For example, if you see a neurologist who has had many patients who have an invisible disability such as multiple sclerosis, your neurologist probably has many patients who need accommodations and based on that, can detail what type of accommodation would work, given your limitations.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that interprets the ADA. While its guidance isn’t binding, it may guide the court hearing your case. The guidance provides that your doctor’s note should specify what her specialization is and her history of treating you. The EEOC guidance also specifies that your doctor’s note can state the diagnosis and how the condition would manifest if left unaccommodated. For instance, if you are diabetic, the doctor could explain why more frequent rest, water, and snack breaks are necessary.

Consult a Seasoned Trial Firm About Your Case

You may be wondering if you need a doctor’s note to obtain a reasonable accommodations under the law applicable to New York City workplaces. Our legal team is dedicated to representing disabled or differently abled workers to make sure they receive the reasonable accommodations to which they’re entitled and compensation for harm suffered as a result of an employer’s failure to provide that accommodation. Phillips & Associates represents disabled workers on a contingency fee basis in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, Nassau County or Suffolk County. Call us at (866) 229-9441 or complete our online form.

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