Q. A long-term employee has been working part time for a year due to double knee replacement surgery. She takes painkillers, but not during work hours. Recently, she’s displayed poor judgment, doesn’t concentrate well and sometimes shakes all over. We’re concerned she may be addicted to the painkillers. We reassigned her to a job that carries less risk. What can we legally do to address this? — Lisa, Alaska
A. This is a complex situation because your organization must attempt to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee while ensuring that she is fit to perform the essential functions of the job, without posing a risk to herself or others.
First, you can send her home whenever she does not appear fit for work. Second, initiate a conversation with her, tell her what you have observed, and ask her to engage in a dialogue with you and her treatment provider to determine whether she is currently able to safely perform the essential functions of the job.
Different answers may require different approaches.
If she’s shaking all over, you may want to ensure that she isn’t in need of immediate medical assistance. If it happens regularly, you may need to seek a fitness for duty evaluation. On the other hand, if she makes poor decisions and there isn’t a medical reason for those changes, you can discipline her for failing to meet performance expectations.
If she denies taking medications or needing any medical accommodation, consider asking her to submit to a drug and/or alcohol test next time she appears to be impaired. My best advice is to attempt to work with her on the issues, don’t jump to conclusions, take your time to gather information you need, but don’t ignore the concerns.
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