Supervisors playing doctor — unless they’re doctors — is a bad idea


The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued two press releases: one announcing a disability discrimination lawsuit and another about a recent settlement of age and disability discrimination claims. Both involve supervisors who allegedly thought they knew more than medical professionals.

They were wrong.

In the pending lawsuit, the EEOC alleges the employer hired a package delivery driver who divulged having a disability that can cause pain and inflammation throughout the body. After the new hire completed multiple training shifts, the company assigned the employee to a truck that caused the employee to have severe pain in the legs and feet. The employee requested and received permission to return to the delivery terminal before the end of the shift.

However, before the employee’s next shift, a company supervisor texted the employee, stating that due to the employee’s medical condition, the employee could no longer work for the company. Although the employee insisted that the employee could continue to perform the assigned duties and work as a package loader, the company ignored those pleas and fired the employee, the EEOC said.

In its press release, the EEOC noted that employers cannot terminate employees because of a disability or an accommodation related to the disability. It further emphasized that the employer here violated both rules by firing an employee because of the employee’s medical condition and a one-time request for an accommodation so that the employee could perform the essential functions of the job.

The other lawsuit that settled involved a 57-year-old employee responsible for assisting with evacuations and acting as a liaison to the local fire department during an emergency. However, according to the EEOC, after the employee suffered a heart attack in December 2020 and returned to work, the employee’s supervisor repeatedly tried to convince the employee to retire already, given the employee’s age and heart attack. Then, the company explicitly fired the employee for the same reasons.

That age and disability bias lawsuit settled for $22,500 —pretty cheap if you ask me—although the company must also complete policy updates and training.

Both actions are reminders that employers should not play doctor and stereotype employees based on fears about their ability to perform their job duties. Instead, employers should focus on how they may be able to help.

Suppose an employee requests an accommodation, but the need for an accommodation is not obvious. In that case, the employer may ask the individual for reasonable documentation from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional about the employee’s functional limitations — not an entire medical history — and also get input on possible accommodations.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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