Five Mistakes To Avoid When Requesting Medical Leave or Disability Accommodation
Here are five most common mistakes that we see over and over employees make when requesting medical leave or disability leave at work that should be avoided in order to both - not to jeopardize your job and not to make your potential disability leave claim or wrongful termination case weaker:
- Refusing to disclose your medical limitations. One of the most common mistakes and misconceptions among employees is that they should guard their medical confidentiality no matter what and not disclose any information to their employer about the nature of their disability for which they are seeking medical leave or accommodation. It's important to know that when you request medical leave or accommodation, the employer generally has the right to know which limitations you have which require that accommodation. While the employer might not have the right to know your exact diagnosis, the company has the right to know what physical barriers you have that prevent you from performing your job or require you to be off work. The California FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act) says that a medical/psychological examination/ inquiry may be made as long as the examination/inquiry is job-related and consistent with business necessity and all applicants for the same job classification are subject to the same examination/inquiry. Further, there is no advantage to trying to hide your condition. Unless you have some kind of medical situation that might be considered embarrassing (i.e. abortion, suicide attempts, HIV, etc.) you are better off providing your employer with all the information they need in order to provide you with all the medical leave and all the other accommodations that you might entitled to by law. We see the same situations over and over where an employee simply tells his employer " I am sick and that's all you need to know". Then he gets fired for being on unapproved medical leave, and he has no case against his employer, because the employer cannot be held liable for disability law violations of that employer didn't know and had no reason to know about an employee' disability.
- Not requesting medical leave in writing. Some employees request medical leave in an information conversation and do not provide medical leave request in writing, leaving the question open of whether the oral request was even made, especially in big companies, where keeping record of any request is critical to proving later that you actually made that request, and where conversations are often misinterpreted, misunderstood or conveniently forgotten. You really don't want the issue of whether you actually requested medical leave to turn into the he-said-she-said situation.
- Submitting written request that's too vague. Your request for medical or disability leave should be straightforward and to the point. It should never be longer than one page (except the accompanying medical certification of course) because your want your busy supervisor or hr manager to know what you are asking for within the first few second of reading your request. To make sure you submit your medical leave request correct, please refer to our sample request for medical leave form.
- Refusing to provide additional medical documentation to clarify your disability and limitations as per your employer's request. Often, an employer might ask you for additional information from your doctor, if it's not clear to them what your limitations are or how long you are expected to be off work. Your employer might even ask you to deliver a questionnaire for your doctor to fill out. In the vast majority of cases, it's a mistake to fight your employer on this, and you should cooperate by providing whatever additional information your employer needs in order to provide you with the medical leave you request.
- Not providing your employer with at least an estimated date of return to work. This is one fact that can make or break a disability based wrongful termination case. Under California law, an employer doesn't have to provide "indefinite" leave of absence. Therefore, if you inform your employer that you will be out on medical leave and you have no idea when you will return to work, and they terminate you at some point after you go on leave, chances are that your disability leave based claim will be weak, if any at all. You have to make sure that when your doctor fills out your disability leave certification, he puts at least an approximate date of your return to work with or without restrictions. It's ok if you need to get an extension or even multiple extensions later, as long as there is always a date when you might return to work. In one of the cases we recently handled, the doctor wrote in the medical leave request that our client suffered from a "lifetime condition" referring to her knee injury, making it difficult for her to walk. It took a lot of work to convince the court that "lifetime" means that a limitation will be there forever, but it doesn't mean that the employee will have to be off work for the rest of her life. You should make sure that you avoid having such ambiguities in your medical leave form. Your doctor is probably a very well qualified physician, but he is not an expert in disability laws and medical leave laws. Therefore, it might be a good idea to consult about your condition and your potential medical leave request with an experienced employment lawyer to make sure that you submit your request correctly and do everything right on your part, when requesting leave.