From the desk of Linda Carter Batiste, J.D., Principal Consultant
Unlike some other federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require employers to use standardized forms when gathering medical information from employees. In fact, I've heard representatives from the ADA's enforcement agency recommend that employers not use forms at all. Why? Because the ADA limits how much medical information can be gathered from employees in various situations, for example when an employee requests a reasonable accommodation. Also, employers are prohibited from asking for medical information they already have. Using standardized forms may include medical questions beyond what's allowed for any given situation. For example, employers are not supposed to ask for proof of disability when the disability is obvious or has already been documented. Asking for new medical documentation to prove disability each time an employee asks for an accommodation can violate this rule.
If you're familiar with the resources on the JAN Website, you may be thinking, "Hey, don't you have a whole bunch of sample forms on your site?" And you would be right — we do have a bunch of sample forms that we developed in response to all the requests we get for them.
So how should you use these JAN sample forms in light of what I just said about potentially violating the ADA medical inquiry rules? The key is that you need to customize them each time you use them and in some way indicate what information you need. For example, you could highlight the sections you want the healthcare provider to complete. You could completely remove sections as needed before sending the form to the healthcare provider. Or you could even pull out the questions you want answered and send them in a customized letter to the healthcare provider.
Also, there may be specific questions you have for an employee with a unique situation that you might want to add to the form before you send it to the healthcare provider.
We all like shortcuts to help us get our work done more efficiently and sample forms can do that, as long as you keep the ADA medical inquiry rules in mind and remove any questions you don't need answered on a case by case basis.
- For a list of JAN's sample forms, see JAN's A to Z By Topic: Sample Forms.