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Some supervisors become visibly annoyed when receiving a doctor’s note that sets work restrictions on one of their employees. If the employee sees that reaction and then suffers discipline or termination soon after, watch out! He or she could link the timing of the two events as evidence of discrimination or retaliation.

That’s why it’s wise to train supervisors to accept medical excuses with a smile (or at least not with a frown), handle the request professionally and then forward the note or form to HR.

Plus, keep copies of employees’ doctor notes. As in the following case, that allows you to show that you’ve been consistent with your treatment of workers who request leave.

Recent case: Leslie Nyholm, a machine operator at a Minnesota auto parts manufacturer, became pregnant. She gave her supervisor a doctor’s note that restricted her schedule and the weight she could lift.

In the preceding months, the company had written up Nyholm several times for wasting materials. In fact, she had the worst “scrap rate” in the shop. Shortly after Nyholm delivered the pregnancy note, the company fired her.

She sued, alleging sex and pregnancy discrimination. The company argued that it had fired her for poor performance, not pregnancy bias.

Result: The court dismissed her case because Nyholm had presented medical restriction notes in the past and she couldn’t point to any related discipline. The company was able to produce all her doctor’s notes as evidence. (Nyholm v. International Precision Machining, No. 08-1356, DC MN, 2009)

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