Q. We have an experienced employee who is not working at an acceptable pace. We need to address his speed, but we’re concerned he may have medical issues. Can we ask him about his health? — Anonymous, Illinois
A. Probably not. You don’t say why you think medical issues may be a problem. If he’s very obviously unwell, then addressing the situation directly may be appropriate. However, because of the ADA and the many state laws that protect individuals against disability discrimination, the general rule is that you should not ask employees about their health or medical unless it appears that the individual may not be medically qualified or may pose a direct threat to himself or others in the role.
My suggestion is that you sit down and have the conversation you planned to have about his job performance and why it is no longer acceptable. Listen to what he says. At some point in the conversation, you can ask, “Is there anything we could do, or any reasonable accommodation we could make, that would help you perform your job more effectively?”
If he’s experiencing medical issues, this gives him the opportunity to introduce that topic and let you know if there’s something that might allow him to be more productive. If he does, then you have begun the interactive process of determining what his limits may be and the sorts of accommodations that may be available that will allow him to be productive once again.