Is it legal to suggest that someone take time off?

Question: “Is there a tactful—and most importantly—legal way to suggest that someone take time off when she is not able to properly perform her job due to a medical issue? We have an employee who developed Bell’s Palsy. It has affected her speech and one eye, making it very difficult for her to see and speak. Her primary job is to call on clients and research the Internet. Although we appreciate her dedication, she is stressing herself out because no one can understand her. We feel that if she took a couple days off and rested, her recuperation would be that much quicker.” — Louise


I discussed this issue with our HR person, and she said it all depends what you have in your company policy about this situation.
At our agency, if there is a concern that someone is physically and/or mentally unable to perform his/her work functions, we send them to a physician at our cost for evaluation. However that comes out determines whether the employee stays or goes on medical leave.
If this is not possible, could you give her something to do that does not involve being on the phone?

The issue with asking the co-worker to take time off is it might not make a difference. I have a friend who has been diagnosed with Bells Palsey and has had it for many years (at least 5). The first time she recovered quickly, this is the second time (she is one of those rare individuals who got it twice). My suggestion is to have that individual do a task or project that would not have them speaking to clients- how about writing emails or letters? Maybe she will be one of those that recovers in a certain amount of time; however, it is really an uncertainty.

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I have had two situations in the past in which a person had a medical issue, and it was obvious that they would be helped a great deal if they spent a week or three away from the office. The person had a ton of unused sick time, so they could easily afford it financially (and regarding sick time). We suggested they ask the doctor if the doctor thought it would help, and if the physician agreed, the physician could write up a directive for the person to take a one-week or two-week (or whatever) medical leave of absence. (We wanted the directive so that it could count as medical leave since any absence of more than three days requires a note from the doctor.)

shame on you. If her doctor did not suggest that she leave work to recoup then it should be up to you to tactfully and gently give her something appropriate. I think you are ashamed and embarrassed and that removing her from the office helps you to deal with an unpleasant situation. Maybe you should take the leave.


First, is tje employee able to do the essential functions of her position? Disability or not, an employee has to be able to do the essential functions of their position.

Second, if you believe that the employee is not doing the essential function of their position, you can send them to a physician for a physical at your cost.

If the physician determines the employee is able to do their job, but with accommodations, the employer has to determine if they can accommodate. If the employer cannot accommodate, then suggest that the employee take Family Medical Leave until they are recuperated enough to return to work.(12 Weeks Total)

This is understandably a delicate situation for both parties. It is a horrible feeling to feel inadequate, which it sounds like she may have that feeling. I would talk to her, tell her that you notice that she is stressed and that maybe you could work out some non-permanent tasks for right now until she felt more up to talking on the phone. Just be sure that she realizes that her job isn’t in jeopardy you are only looking to try and make the workplace an environment were she can work and feel good about herself. Keep it positive, she could feel relieved or more down on herself. That depends on the person and you know her better than I. Good Luck

This is really a tough one. I know last year when I became ill my doctor only allowed me to work 2-4 hours for about four months. I put in FMLA plus I also had plenty of sick and comp-time that I used. I wanted to be at work and I would push myself to work even when I knew deep down I couldn’t and shouldn’t. The reason why I felt that way was because I did not want to lose my job. My boss finally sat me down and told me I was a valuable employee and they wanted me to get well so I could put in full days. Maybe this employee needs to know she is still valuable and is not in danger of losing her job. If she now has a disability and there is something she can do besides her current job I would suggest placing her in the new job function.

Thank you for your comments. We did suggest the same things you all mentioned and was given lighter duties but she still had a very difficult time. Our only goal was to see her well as she is a very valued and dedicated employee. As for “Sally”, I am neither embarrassed or ashamed as her doctor did suggest she take some time. Enough said!

This just happened to me. I had a newly diagnosed medical condition that required me to have my legs elevated. Because we’re allowed to work from home, I was at home for 2 weeks. Then, all of a sudden, it became an issue. So, I brought in a note from both of my doctors stating why I needed to work from home. My employer – the HR department, no less – said that someone in management had to approve this. WRONG! I called the labor department and they said an employer cannot disregard a doctor’s recommendation – especially when the condition is viewed as a disability. (I don’t know if Bell’s Palsey is or not.) My manager bullied me so bad that I ended up just taking a week of vacation time.

Because I have been the person with the medical condition, the following approaches would have been helpful for me.

1) Have you asked her if she wants some time off? Assure her that her job is safe and that someone will cover for her. That may prompt her, on her own, to take a few days (and I seriously doubt she’ll recover from this with just a few days).

2) If she is NOT able to perform her job, ask her to provide medical information from her doctor’s about her recovery. I know it seems unfair, but if her condition is not going to improve, you will have no choice but to either (a) move her into another position or (b) find a legal way to terminate her. (Your company attorney or an HR consultant can advise on how you do that.)

3) Does she know what the company’s short- and long-term disability coverage is? I know when I got sick, I had no idea. Provide her with some information just as options for her to consider.

This woman has to know she cannot do her job. Someone there must be in a position to pull her aside, talk to her in a caring and concerned manner as a friend, and help her figure this out. There is some reason why she’s not removing herself from the workplace or pursuing the disability route – and it’s probably because she just doesn’t know what to expect.

Have you all heard of HIPPA?!?

Period end of story!