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What Employer Should do if an Employee Advises of a Medical Condition

By June 25, 2011 February 19th, 2015 No Comments
Question: What must HR do if an employee advises of a medical condition?
Answer: Full Question: If an employee advises her supervisor/manager that she has been diagnosed with a medical condition (MS), but has not provided any documentation or advised that she is unable to perform her job, is there anything that HR must do? The supervisor did advise her that she may want to see HR if she has any questions, however, she has not done so. Also, she does not have any personal/vacation time remaining for the year and this condition.

Answer:
If the employee in question has merely disclosed her medical condition, but has not requested a reasonable accommodation, and if it is not obvious that she needs one, the employer should simply continue to treat her as it would any other employee, and as it would have treated her had she never made known her condition. Unless and until the employee requests a reasonable accommodation, or it becomes clear to the employer that she needs one to perform essential functions of her job, the best thing to do is to just ignore the fact that she has any disability at all.

Treating the employee differently (better or worse) can create exposure to a disability discrimination claim and is ill advised. To the extent she subsequently seeks reasonable accommodation or the employer, based on objective evidence (and not rumor or speculation), reasonably believes that she may require one in order to perform essential functions or to prevent a direct threat, at that point the employer can and should explore with the employee what kind of accommodation she needs in order to be able to perform essential job functions, and whether such accommodation can be provided without undue hardship to the employer.

The following guidance published by the EEOC may assist you in addressing reasonable accommodation and undue hardship, should it subsequently become an issue (it does not appear that it is now, based on the inquiry): http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html. Also keep in mind that if the employee’s performance slips or she engages in misconduct or a policy violation, the employer should not assume that her medical issue caused it, nor must the employer tolerate unsatisfactory performance or conduct merely because the employee has previously disclosed a medical condition. Indeed, while the fact of an employee’s disability protects the employee against unfair treatment or discrimination in the workplace, it does not entitle the employee to any treatment that is better or more preferential. For specific guidance in managing performance and conduct of a disabled employee within the confines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, should this become an issue, please see:
http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/performance-conduct.html.

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