At some point in your HR career, you’ll run into a trainwreck of an employee with problems that just seem to escalate. It may start with a small injury and a workers’ compensation claim. That can turn into a dispute over alleged harassment and retaliation. Eventually, she may even claim she has developed deep psychological scars—caused by her employer’s insensitive treatment.
How you handle this slide makes all the difference in the world. If she says she can’t work and has a doctor who supports her, you may be able to use the medical assessment to your benefit. That’s what happened in the following case.
Recent case: Janice Burgos-Stefanelli worked for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as a customs and border patrol officer. She suffered a hand injury and went out on workers’ compensation. Shortly after returning, she hurt her shoulder at the firing range and went right back out on comp. She returned again long enough to take a job function test, during which she injured herself again.
Burgos-Stefanelli then began claiming her supervisors were harassing her in their efforts to get her back to work. Her psychologists told ICE that she couldn’t work because she “has had a complete mental collapse due to how she has been treated after her work injury …. [I]t is not known at this time what accommodations would be acceptable as much psychological damage has been done to this client.”
ICE ordered Burgos-Stefanelli to undergo an exam. She refused and was terminated based on her refusal plus her own medical evaluation.
She sued, but the court said ICE could rely on Burgos-Stefanelli’s own medical evaluation, which essentially said she was unable to work and couldn’t be accommodated. (Burgos-Stefanelli. v. Napolitano, No. 09-60118, SD FL, 2010)