While knowledge of the disability can in many cases be inferred from the circumstances, knowledge will only be imputed to the employer when the fact of disability is the only reasonable interpretation of the known facts. "Vague or conclusory statements revealing an unspecified incapacity are not sufficient to put an employer on notice of its obligations under the ADA." (Morisky v. Broward County) [ for instance, plaintiff's illiteracy and history of special education classes insufficient to put employer on notice of developmental disability]; see also Miller v. National Cas. Co. [absenteeism, claims of stress, and a relative's statement employee was " 'mentally falling apart' " insufficient to put employer on notice of manic-depression]; Carlson v. InaCom Corp. (D.Neb. 1995) 885 F.Supp. 1314, 1322 [absenteeism and claims of occasional headache insufficient to impute knowledge of disabling migraine condition].
This is why it is so important to communicate to the employer your symptoms and your diagnosis if you are suffering from disability and need an accommodation. Do not limit your discussion with the employer about your condition to vague and generic statements such as that you are not feeling well, that you have headaches, or that you have medical issues. Although privacy is an important concern when it comes to health issues, if you want to be accommodated and retain your job while suffering from disability or medical condition that limits your ability to work in any way, you should be as upfront with your employer as possible, to allow them to accommodate your condition.
One of the common defenses that employer use after terminating a disabled employee and being sued for wrongful termination is that they didn't know that the employee had a disability. This is yet another reason why you should be clear about your condition and about your need for accommodations, and that's why you should communicate the above in writing to your management, human resources staff and anyone else in charge, so that later the employer cannot argue that they didn't know about your disability and the need for you to be off work on medical leave or receive other accommodations.
For more information about your rights as a disabled worker in California, please visit our California workplace disability discrimination law site.