Employers Are Not Parents: Use Caution When Telling Employees To "Take Care Of Themselves"
A lot of employers really care about their employees, which is good.
Here are a few good things to do when you want to take care of your staff, especially their health:
Pay them well
Offer good health care options
Offer an EAP (Employee Assistance Program)
Have a well thought out and transparent process for ADA accommodations
Provide a robust leave policy
Train your managers on the requirements of the ADA and the FMLA.
Here's one thing you shouldn't do: fire them and tell them that they need to "take care of themselves."
That is what allegedly happened in a case recently settled between Crain Automotive Holdings and the EEOC. According to the EEOC's lawsuit, Crain Automotive refused to provide a medical leave of absence as an accommodation to an employee who suffered from anxiety and depression, and then fired her because of her disability, saying that due to the employee's health "it was not working out" and that the employee should take care of her health.
One of the arguments that Crain Automotive made in litigation was that while it knew that the employee had been in the hospital and had been absent from work for a number of days, it cannot be expected to infer from such circumstances that the employee was disabled or suffering from any condition that would continue to interfere with her work. The company reasoned, therefore, that because it didn't know about the alleged disability it was legally impossible for it to have discriminated against the employee.
Before the parties settled, the court didn't buy it, noting that the employee claimed that she told her supervisor that she had experienced chest pains on a Monday; on that Wednesday she told her supervisor that she had anxiety, depression, and had suffered a panic attack; on that Friday she emailed her supervisor before leaving work, saying “I can’t do this” because she was “still hurting too bad”; and on that Friday she also emailed another supervisor explaining that she had had a heart catheterization and that she had left early because she “was having another panic attack.”
The court decided that the failure to accommodate claim would survive summary judgment and the case would go to trial. Before trial, however, the parties decided to settle the case.
What's the lesson? There are a lot, but I think really good training of anyone that manages employees is the best starting point. I have seen many situations similar to this one where a supervisor simply has not been provided proper training and guidance from their employer on the requirements of the ADA and how to respond when an employee raises an issue that could have ADA implications. Managers should know when they should escalate issues to HR!