New York Disability Accommodations Examples and Explanations: Can An Employer Ask for Mental Health or Psychological Medical Documentation?

By David DeToffol | March 8, 2024
Picture of medical Records

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from requiring employees to participate in medical examinations or answer medical inquiries except under limited circumstances. Most courts agree that individuals with and without disabilities may challenge improper medical inquiries. This article focuses on when an employer can request medical records in response to an accommodation request from one of its employees.

Here is the example we will use throughout the article:

Alex has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His mood swings affect Alex’s ability to concentrate and work with others. Alex started being treated by a psychiatrist to manage the condition. He then requested that his boss adjust his work schedule, allowing him to attend crucial therapy sessions. Alex’s request is an accommodation request.

I. Can an Employer Ask for Medical Documentation to Support a Request for Mental Health Disability Accommodation?

Here’s the thing: employers can request medical documentation to support an employee’s request for disability accommodation when the need for accommodation is not obvious. The documentation can help the employer understand the nature and extent of the disability and determine whether the accommodation addresses the employee’s specific needs.

How this applies to Alex: Alex’s employer may ask for medical documentation that proves he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and may seek a statement from his doctor saying that Alex should attend the therapy sessions.

II. To What Extent an Employer May Ask for Medical Documentation

While employers can request medical documentation, this right is not unlimited. The documentation requested should be relevant to the disability and the need for accommodation. Employers cannot demand medical information unrelated to the disability or the accommodation request. The focus should be on understanding the disability’s impact on the employee’s job performance and determining reasonable accommodations.

How this applies to Alex: Alex’s accommodation request does not give his employer the right to go fishing around all of Alex’s records. For example, it would be an overreach for the employer to demand all of Alex’s therapist’s notes, and it would be an overreach to ask for cardiology records if Alex is requesting an accommodation related to Mental Health.

III. Employer’s Duty to Accommodate Obvious Disabilities

An employer’s duty to accommodate extends to disabilities that are obvious. In cases where a disability is obvious, employers should take proactive steps to engage in an “interactive process” and provide accommodations.

How this applies to Alex: Alex’s condition may not be obvious to the naked eye, and therefore, Alex should explicitly ask for accommodation if he needs one, and in return, his employer may ask for medical documentation.

Conclusion

Employers must remember that the goal is to create a place where employees with disabilities can freely and comfortably request accommodations.

Your voice matters in the face of workplace discrimination, and seeking justice is your right. Contact DeToffol & Gittleman today to schedule a comprehensive and confidential consultation regarding your workplace discrimination claim.

The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. Laws vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another, and therefore, the concepts discussed here may not apply universally or to every case. Furthermore, laws, especially in this field, are subject to frequent changes, so there is no guarantee that the information presented is current or up to date at the time of reading.