Medical Proof of Disability Needed to Start Accommodation Process

One of my employees who has been with the company for a few years (and who was about to get written up for failing to complete projects in a timely manner) came to me and said she needed more time to complete her work because she’s dyslexic. I asked her to provide me a doctor’s note confirming her disability, but she’s refusing, saying that she was diagnosed as a child and it would cost too much to go to a doctor now to get a note. Do I have to provide her an accommodation if she’s refusing to give me a doctor’s note?

When an employee requests an accommodation for a purported disability, that triggers certain obligations for both the employee and the employer under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Under federal and state law, an employer may require a medical certification from a “medical provider,” as defined by the applicable regulations, before the accommodation is granted.

Interactive Process

One of the first obligations for both parties is to engage in the interactive process to identify or implement an effective, reasonable accommodation. The law requires both the employer and the employee to exchange essential information without delay or obstruction of the process. (Title 2, California Code of Regulations, Section 11069(a))

As part of the interactive process, the employee is compelled to cooperate in good faith with the employer to complete the process.

Medical Documentation

Where the need for an accommodation is not obvious, the employer is authorized to request reasonable medical documentation to confirm the existence of the disability and the need for a reasonable accommodation. (Title 2, California Code of Regulations, Section 11069(d)(1))

Consequently, in the situation you described, you are entitled to request that the employee provide you with medical certification that she has a disability and her need for an accommodation.

The employee is compelled by law to provide you with that medical certification as part of the interactive process since her need for an accommodation is not obvious.

If the employee continues to refuse to provide you with medical certification, she is refusing to cooperate in good faith in the interactive process. Where an employee refuses to cooperate in the interactive process, you, as the employer, will not be obliged to provide a reasonable accommodation.

Column based on questions asked by callers on the Labor Law Helpline, a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at

Staff Contact: David Leporiere