Q. About once a month, one of our employees faints, is taken to the hospital by ambulance and is released to return to work—without restrictions. These recurring incidents are affecting our productivity, and we’re worried about the employee’s health. The employee has claimed the episodes are induced by workplace stress. What should we do?
A. Under the ADA, an employer may demand a post-employment medical inquiry of an employee as long as it is job-related and justified by business necessity.
In this situation, the employee’s performance is regularly affected by the fainting spells and he may pose a threat to others.
A medical inquiry is particularly appropriate given the possibility that the episodes are triggered by workplace stress. The inquiry would determine the nature and severity of the employee’s condition, whether any disability exists and whether you must take steps to mitigate any direct threat of harm.
You may want to deliver a letter to the employee, noting the company’s eagerness to have him return to work as soon as possible and requesting specific information from his physician confirming that he can safely perform the essential functions of his job. The letter should also explain why the earlier physician releases were insufficient.
Ask the employee to request written information from the treating physician and include a copy of his job description. Instruct the physician to review the job description and advise the company whether the employee is able to perform his job duties and whether his condition poses a risk to his own or his co-workers’ safety.
Finally, the letter should ask about any limitations or restrictions required for the employee’s safe return to work.
From this information, you can better determine the employee’s fitness for duty, whether a disability exists and whether any reasonable accommodation could reduce or eliminate any direct safety or health threat.
If the employee refuses to provide medical documentation supporting his safe return to work, you are within your rights to take appropriate disciplinary action.
If you decide to take adverse action against the employee, base your decision on the particular facts of the situation and the company’s past practice in similar situations.
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