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Don’t Take That Doctor’s Word For It: The ADA’s Interactive Process Requires Employers To Do More

Employment & Labor Legal Update

Employers frequently must obtain information from health care providers on the health conditions of their applicants or employees. This occurs when the employer is determining whether an applicant to whom it has offered a position can perform the physical requirements of the job. It also occurs when a current employee suffers an injury or illness that the employer suspects will impair the employee’s ability to perform his or her job functions, or will pose a direct threat to the employee or to others. However, due to recent case law and active EEOC enforcement in these areas, the employer must be sure when working with health care providers it does not adopt the providers’ conclusions without performing its own analysis as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employers Must Analyze Function and Employee's Condition

In LaFata v. Dearborn Heights Sch. Dist. No.7, Civil No. 13-cv-10755 (E.D. Mich. 2013), a federal district court in Michigan recently held that an employer violated the ADA when it refused to hire an applicant based on the conclusion of a doctor that the applicant could not perform the essential job functions of the position for longer than two years. The court concluded that the employer did not properly engage in the ADA’s interactive process, which “requires an individualized inquiry to determine whether an employee’s disability or other condition disqualifies him from a particular position.” According to the court, the employer’s failure was evidenced by its failure to read the doctor’s report or consider additional information to determine whether “the examination and analysis” that the doctor performed “were thorough and/or reasonable.” The additional information that the employer failed to consider was the opinion of the applicant’s treating physician that the applicant could perform the essential job duties and the applicant’s own work history which demonstrated that he had performed his previous job without restriction. The court also concluded that the employer violated the ADA by conducting no analysis to determine whether there were reasonable accommodations available that would have allowed the applicant to perform the job’s essential functions.

The LaFata case is a good reminder to employers that it is not the health care providers who decide whether an employee can perform the essential job functions of a position with or without accommodation. The ADA’s interactive process requires employers to:

  • Analyze the job functions to establish essential and non-essential job tasks.
  • Identify the barriers to job performance by consulting with the employee to learn the precise limitation.
  • Learn the accommodations which would be most effective.

Employers must remember to analyze the information obtained from health care providers regarding the employee’s condition and not ask the provider to perform this analysis for them. In addition, before reaching a conclusion, employers should consult with the applicant or employee regarding the provider’s opinion to determine if additional information is available that may contradict the provider’s opinion. Finally, employers must always remember to analyze whether a reasonable accommodation would allow the applicant or employee to perform the essential job functions. Written documentation of each of these steps is the key to demonstrating compliance with the ADA.

Julie Reddig is an employment attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer. She defends and counsels management in a broad range of matters and disputes involving employment and the workplace, including hiring and discrimination claims made by prospective, current, and former employees. She represents companies at mediations, arbitrations, administrative agency proceedings, and in the state and federal courts of Maryland and the District of Columbia. To learn more about the ADA, contact Julie at (301) 961-6099 or jareddig@lerchearly.com.

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This content is for your information only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney before acting on any information contained here.

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