What rights does an employer have to ask for a doctor’s note regarding an employee’s medical condition?

I work and manage a store with an employee who voluntarily disclosed after he was hired that that he has epilepsy. That employee suffered from a seizure outside of work, which caused him to have to call out for his shift. He returned a couple days later with scratches and cuts on his arms, which was very concerning to me as an employer. I then, requested the employee obtain a doctor’s note giving me and the company worded documentation that disclosed that the employee was allowed to return to work and about any possible restrictions. The company that we work at requires all employees to be able to stand for 6 hours, work around multiple lights and to utilize and or stabilize 15-20 ft ladders. The employee also stated that there were specific lights in the

store that he could not be around and the doctors note stated that his restrictions were to minimize exposure to those lights. The employee also stated that he has experienced seizures at his previous job. Was it illegal for me to request a doctor’s note from this employee?

Asked on September 17, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

1) You absolutely may request medical documentation of his condition and of any requested accommodations. An employer is*not* required to take an employee at his or her word about a medical condition or accommodations, and may request documentation or proof thereof.
2) Even if he can prove the epilepsy and the accommodations he needs, it is  not a given or automatic that you need to make those accommodations. If an employee cannot safely do core parts of his job (e.g. safely use and stabilize 15-20 ft ladders, if doing so is central to the job he was hired to do), then the employer is not required to expose itself, other workers, or customers to potential liability; and is not required to invent or create a new job for the employer, or have to hire additional employees to do the parts of his job he cannot do. "Reasonable accommodations" are ones which are not too expensive or disruptive which let the employee do his job. So, for example, say that a certain type of fluorescent bulb can trigger his seizures; if at not-too-great-an-expense, you could either change those for different bulbs or pay for some protective eyewear for him, you'd have to do that; but again, if a key part of the job is ladders, and someone who could have a seizure cannot use or stabilize ladders for others, then he simply cannot do this job and you could terminate him for that.


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