Faced with a mountain of legislation and regulations designed to protect employees from discrimination and invasions of privacy, many employers and supervisors understandably fear making any inquiry about a worker’s physical or mental health. While caution is appropriate, when faced with evidence that a health impairment affects the employee’s performance of an essential job function, an employer is within its rights to seek additional information.
First and foremost, employers should limit their response to work performance. If someone is moody or eccentric, for example, but fully responsive to the task at hand, there is no ground for inquiry. But where an employee’s behavior adversely impacts the workplace (angry emotional outbursts, threats against co-workers) or where it corresponds with deteriorating performance (hypersensitivity to criticism, anxiety or depression surrounding deadlines, etc.) the employer may need to take action. While any given incident may itself be grounds for discipline, the more cautious and arguably the more enlightened approach is to require the employee to undergo an independent medical examination (IME) to rule out any health concern rendering the employee unable to fill the essential functions of the job.
These situations should not be left to low-level supervisors or payroll staff. Well-trained HR professionals or outside advisors should be consulted to make sure the process is handled carefully and appropriately. But neither the employee nor the workplace should be left to suffer in silence for fear that the inquiry is impermissible.
Having concerns about an employee and don’t know where to start? Contact our office at (248) 477-6300 and let one of our attorneys give you a hand.