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When does a request for additional medical information violate the law?

We know from experience that our clients have a difficult time navigating the process of requesting a reasonable accommodation for a disability.  We’re frequently asked if the request needs to come from the individual, or from a health care provider, and if there are multiple providers, if each needs to submit a separate request?  The answers to these questions differ from case to case.  But one thing we frequently observe is that employers who receive requests for reasonable accommodations almost instinctively react by demanding more information. In many occasions, employers request more information even when it seems unnecessary.

Thankfully, EEOC enforcement guidance states that private and federal government employers cannot request additional medical documentation after receiving a request for reasonable accommodations in two situations: First, when both the disability and need for accommodation are obvious, and second, when the individual has already provided sufficient information to substantiate the disability and need for the accommodation requested.

And the good news is that courts adhere to these rules.  In the case of Natalie S. v. VA, 118 LRP 4427 (OFO 2018), the employee was a military veteran who requested reasonable accommodations for PTSD. The employee had a long history of communications with the agency regarding the permanent nature of her disability and restrictions.  Even though her disability was obvious, the agency asked for more information.  Fed up with the additional requests, the employee filed an EEO complaint alleging that the additional requests violated the Rehabilitation Act. An Administrative Judge eventually heard her case and ruled against her. However, the employee appealed the decision to the Office of Federal Operations, who reversed the judge’s determination, finding that the agency subjected her to an unlawful disability inquiry when it requested additional medical documentation.

If you feel that your government or private sector employer is giving you the run around in an effort to frustrate you from obtaining a reasonable accommodation, call us at (202) 463-6036.  Our lawyers have handled these types of cases for over 20 years and will assist in obtaining the reasonable accommodation you need and holding your employer responsible for the harm you suffer.

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