Let’s face it: Some employees are a bit strange. They may do a good job, but their personal quirks may make other employees feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, their behavior may even be an indication of serious mental health problems.
But before you rush to demand the employee get counseling or see a doctor, remember that the ADA prohibits such requests unless there is a clear business necessity for the exam.
The better approach is to keep your focus on the employee’s work and leave out personality problems. At a minimum, run the problem by your attorney before talking to the employee about any kind of evaluation.
Recent case: Rena got rave reviews for her work at an AT&T call center. But several supervisors became concerned when Rena seemed to think that she was being followed and that cameras installed in the facility were there to spy on her. Plus, she acted in a way that several supervisors described as “paranoid.”
One supervisor claimed her behavior made co-workers “afraid for their own safety” and suggested having a discussion with Rena about seeing a doctor.
Rena then arrived at work and found her card no longer opened the door. She was instead escorted to a meeting, where she heard examples of her behavior that some deemed bizarre. Then she was informed that she had been scheduled for a physical exam. She was given paid time off until the appointment.
Rena went to the appointment, but refused to cooperate. She wouldn’t hand over her health insurance information or answer any questions about her health or mental condition. Instead, she left and returned to work.
She was never disciplined for refusing to undergo the examination.
Rena sued anyway, alleging, among other claims, that she had been regarded as disabled when she was not.
The court agreed that Rena had been treated as if she had a mental health condition when her supervisors scheduled the appointment. However, she lost the case anyway because she was never disciplined for refusing to participate in the exam. (Lee v. AT&T Mobility, No. 5:11-CV-294, ED NC, 2013)
Final note: Remember that the ADA makes it illegal to require an employee to undergo a medical test that may reveal a disability unless there is a sound business reason for doing so. That means you can’t ask for a medical exam unless there’s a job-related reason that is consistent with a business necessity.
While some behavior (like threats of physical harm) may warrant suspension and a medical exam, other behavior can and should be ignored.
What saved AT&T in this case was that it never took action against Rena once she made it clear she wasn’t going to participate in a physical or mental evaluation. Had she been fired for refusing, the company would have had a hard time defending itself. It’s difficult to imagine that Rena’s slightly paranoid outlook was really dangerous to her co-workers.
The bottom line: If you think an employee could benefit from counseling or a medical exam, discuss the matter with your attorney before taking action.
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