The Employer's Legal Resource: Help Mental Health Care Providers Help You – The Process of Identifying a Reasonable Accommodation

02.01.17

As part of the EEOC's guidance addressed in the previous article, the EEOC also issued "The Mental Health Provider's Role in a Client's Request for a Reasonable Accommodation at Work." Now, it is hard to know whether mental health care providers will be reading employment law blogs or reading the EEOC's website so how can this help you? Here's how.

You need to understand, first, that the health care provider is still bound by patient-physician privilege. The doctor won't talk to you, and shouldn't. You will get your information through your employee. You need to find the best and most expeditious way to get the information you need so you can evaluate the situation and make decisions.

The EEOC provides some useful guidance to the health care practitioner which you can use in your communications. It advises the health care practitioner that he/she can provide the following types of documentation, in plain language, to best serve the patient in these situations:

  • A brief description of his or her professional qualifications and the nature and length of his/her relationship with the client.
  • The nature of the client's condition. This need not be a detailed discussion of the client's medical condition – just enough to explain the need for the upcoming discussion of the work restrictions.
  • The need for a reasonable accommodation. This is the heart of the communication. The provider should explain why there is a need for an accommodation. Specifically, the EEOC guidance states: "Explain how the client's condition makes changes at work necessary. … Limit your discussion to the specific problems that may be helped by a reasonable accommodation. Also explain to the employer why your client may need an accommodation such as a schedule change (e.g., to attend a therapy appointment during the workday) or time off (e.g., to adjust to a new medication, receive treatment, or recover)."
  • Finally, the EEOC recommends the mental healthcare provider make suggested accommodations if he or she is aware of any.

As anyone who has been faced with accommodating mental health disabilities knows, these issues can be complicated. Getting clear, concise information from the health care provider can make the interactive process much smoother. While the health care provider's suggested accommodations are not mandatory (meaning it is still the employer that must determine whether it is "reasonable" as defined by the ADA), it is very helpful to have the input from a medical professional.

This guidance may prove useful to employers as they draft a letter for their employee to take to the employee's health care provider. If you might have previously thought – what kinds of questions can I ask of this health care provider – you now have some help.

By Kristen L. Brightmire, kbrightmire@dsda.com

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Rebecca D. Bullard

Rebecca D. Bullard

Rebecca represents clients primarily in labor and employment
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