Employee Tip: Reducing Problems at Work Relating to Your Medical Condition

People with medical conditions often have unique requirements or problems arise at work. You should consider the following things to reduce the risk of problems.

Please note this post does not provide legal advice- if you want legal advice, you should contact an attorney and discuss your specific circumstances. If you are interested in legal assistance from attorney-author Michael Brown or his law firm DVG Law Partner for your matter, please contact them here:

(1) Learn your employer’s applicable policies, and follow them.

You should review the employer’s policies that relate to medical issues. These policies usually include:

– Attendance and sick leave policies;

– Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) policies;

– Short term disability (STD) and long term disability (LTD) policies; and

– Discrimination and complaint policies.

For example, if you want to take medical leave for surgery, you may qualify for FMLA leave. Your employer will likely have an FMLA policy, and preferred FMLA formwork. You should use the employer’s forms, and follow its policies.

If you have problems with another employee because of your medical condition, you should check if the employer has a policy concerning discrimination or employee complaints. For instance, your employer may have a disability discrimination policy that tells you what to do if someone is harassing you because of your medical condition. The policy may tell you a specific department and phone number to call.

If you decide to take a particular action (e.g. request medical leave or make an internal complaint), it is important you follow the employer’s policies. Even if you think following a policy will not help you, it can help you later to show you took all the steps your employer’s policy said you should take.

(2) Assist your doctor with employment requirements.

Often, it is necessary that your doctor will have to complete formwork, write letters, or fulfill other requirements for your employer.

It is important you inform your doctor of all such requirements, and give as much advance notice as possible.

Also, if you can assist your doctor with any employment requirements, you should offer to do so. For example, you may be able to complete non-medical information on a form-such as name, address, etc.- and save your doctor time by completing this information yourself. If you assist in ways like this, your doctor may be able to complete requirements more quickly and efficiently.

However, you should never replace your doctor’s opinion with your own, or submit medical formwork that your doctor has not reviewed. The objective is to make yourself available to help your doctor, and reduce your doctor’s burdens if possible.

(3) If your doctor writes a letter to your employer, consider including the types of information below.

Often, it becomes necessary for a doctor to write an employer about a patient’s medical condition, and the need for “accommodations” such as medical leave and/or work restrictions.

If your doctor writes a letter to your employer, there are important things your doctor and you should consider including in the letter. These things include:

a. Your diagnosis/medical condition.

If you are comfortable informing your employer what your medical condition is, that information can be helpful in getting the employer to understand your need for accommodations. For example, if an employer is informed an employee has a herniated disk, then the employer is more likely to understand why medical leave for surgery is needed.

b. How your diagnosis limits your major life activities.

If your condition limits major life activities, the letter could briefly describe that to the employer. For example, a letter may state “Because of Ms. Smith’s back condition and pain, she is unable to walk long distances, cannot garden, and cannot lift many objects in her home or do many routine house tasks.

c. How your condition affects your work.

If your medical condition affects your work, the letter can tell the employer how. For example, a letter may state “Mr. Jones’ diabetes affects his work because it increases the number of breaks he must take, and reduces the amount of time he can work while standing up.”

d. What restrictions/accommodations you need for work.

If your medical condition requires work restrictions/accommodations, the letter should describe exactly what accommodations are required. For example, a letter may state “Because of Ms. Smith’s back condition and pain, for two weeks she must be restricted from lifting objects over 10 pounds at work.”

e. The date you will begin medical leave, and the date you are returning to work (if possible).

If your doctor is requesting you take medical leave, it is important to give dates for the medical leave, if possible. If you and your doctor cannot give precise dates, the letter should give the most detailed description possible.

For example, a letter may state, “Mr. Jones will need leave from work beginning December 12, 2008 (a day before his surgery), and ending on approximately December 26, 2008. It is possible his leave will be longer. If that is the case, I will notify you as soon as possible. Leaves for surgery of this type usually last between one and four weeks.”

If you and your doctor are not certain what date you will return to work, then the letter should state the date you will next be evaluated. For example, a letter may state, “Mr. Jones will need leave from work beginning December 12, 2008 (a day before his surgery). It is not yet known when his leave may end. His next appointment will be on December 21, 2008. At that time, his possible return-to-work date will be evaluated, and I will contact you shortly after the appointment with an update.”

As these examples show, it is important the letter gives as much detail about leave as possible. If the letter is too indefinite or open-ended, then the employer may make the wrong conclusions, such as thinking you will be on leave or have restrictions for much longer than your doctor actually anticipates.

f. You are willing to discuss any concerns or requests.

It is important the letter indicates that you and your doctor are willing to communicate with the employer about any concerns or requests.

If a letter from your doctor includes the types of information above, it will help reduce the risk of employment problems down the road. However, sometimes problems still occur, despite your best efforts.

4. If problems arise with your employer, do not react with angry or righteous behavior.

Sometimes, a problem will arise that appears related to your medical condition. For example, an employee may have years of good performance reviews, have surgery, and then receive a negative review (her first) just after the surgery. It is natural for an employee in this circumstance to suspect her medical condition was the real reason for the negative review, and to be hurt and upset about this.

However, when an employer does something negative, it is important you do not react negatively. Some employees who have been wronged will react with angry or righteous behavior, and say or do something that makes things worse.

In whatever way you choose to respond to an employer’s negative conduct- by making a complaint, looking for a new job, or trying to work with the employer and improve in criticized areas- it is important you remain positive. You should look to effectively solve problems rather than dwell on how you have been wronged.

5. If you wish to contact or complain to your employer about problems at work, you should first consider several factors.

Before you decide to notify your employer they did something wrong, you should carefully consider several factors.

– Consider whether the employer may retaliate. There are laws that prohibit retaliation, but that does not mean the employer will not retaliate. You should consider the temperament of the employer personnel involved with your situation. If those persons are usually fair-minded, then the chances are better they will respond to a complaint fairly and open-mindedly. If those persons typically react angrily to employee concerns, then the risk of retaliation is higher, and you should take that into account when considering the pros and cons of complaining.

– Seek advice from a knowledgeable source. You could speak to a union representative, an attorney, and/or a trusted former employee who has successfully responded to similar situations. Take their advice into account, and consider the pros and cons of different options, before you act.

– As mentioned above, check the employer’s policies, to see if they identify people to talk to, and proper procedures to follow. If you decide to make an internal complaint, make sure you contact the people the policy designates, and follow the appropriate procedures.

– Do not discuss your problems with employees you do not need to communicate with. Unless an employee is someone who needs to know about your medical issues (e.g. an HR rep you need to contact to appeal a medical leave denial), there is no reason to discuss your concerns with that employee. Even coworkers who are friends can inadvertently spread your information in a harmful way. People will talk more than you think: be careful.

– When you communicate with the employer (i.e. with the appropriate representative), use language that is factual and positive. If you communicate with any employer personnel about your concerns, you should talk to them politely, stick to the facts, and communicate with them in a positive and professional manner (even if they do not do these things). Think about who your audience is, and how they may react. If the employer representative acts angrily toward you, do not take the bait. Do not “tell off” that person, or raise your voice: doing this may lose your job, no matter how right you are. The way you communicate is just as important, or more so, than the content of what you communicate.

– Be sure you communicate your concerns in writing (in addition to any spoken complaints). If you decide to inform your employer about problems at work, it is important you do so in writing.

It is fine to communicate concerns in person or over the phone. However, it is important your concerns also be stated in writing. You may later need proof that you communicated your concerns to your employer. The employer’s recollections of spoken conversations may be very different than your recollections. For this reason and others, it is important that your major concerns are not just spoken, but are also communicated in writing.

Once you have decided on the appropriate information to write, you should send the employer an email or other document (e.g. fax, certified letter). The document should be sent to the appropriate person(s) named in the employer’s policies, to your immediate supervisor, and to an HR rep.

Your written/emailed communications should be as natural as possible. For example, if you typically email your supervisor about issues in the office, then it may be best to email the supervisor (rather than sending a certified letter) about work problems relating to your medical condition.

6. Document, and save documentation.

Be sure to document all interactions and problems you have at work that relate to your medical condition. You should keep a journal with dates, descriptions of the issues that occurred (including negative actions or statements made against you), and the names of the employees involved.

Also, you should keep copies of all documents that relate to your medical condition and problems at work. For example, you should keep copies of doctor’s letters and forms, employer’s letters, performance reviews, disciplinary documents, and emails that concern your medical condition or problems at work.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you will never experience problems with your employer, and the employer will reasonably work through medical issues with you. An ideal employment relationship involves trust and good faith on both sides. One way you can enhance the employment relationship is to follow the employer’s policies, and communicate your needs in a reasonable and positive manner.

If problems arise, you should continue following the employer’s policies and acting in a positive manner. However, you should also take the additional precautions above, and work with your doctor and others to protect your best interests. There is no guarantee you can prevent an employer from taking unfair actions against you, but the measures above will help reduce the risk of unfair treatment, and increase your chances of successfully addressing problems.

Please note this post does not provide legal advice- if you want legal advice, you should contact an attorney and discuss your specific circumstances. If you are interested in legal assistance from attorney-author Michael Brown or his law firm DVG Law Partner for your matter, please contact them here:

 

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