Medical Leave Questions

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an employer’s request for an employee’s medical information:

Please tell me as an employer what kind of questions can I ask the doctor about an employee’s medical leave of absence?

Signed, Wanting To Do The Right Thing

Dear Wanting To Do The Right Thing:

Our site focuses primarily on workplace communication issues, rather than issues related to personnel law and HR practices. I will mention a few resources for the legal aspect, and close with a few thoughts about the communication part of it.
*If you have an organization with a Human Resources section or personnel section, you may find assistance there. Apparently you are not a large business, or you would have already had that assistance.
*A good HR site on the internet is www.hr.com.
*If your employee comes under the Family Medical Leave Act, the government site that covers that will be useful.
*If your employee was injured on the job your state’s Department of Labor would be your best resource.I

f there is some aspect of the situation that might involve a liability issue for you down the line, you may want to consult an attorney. Most will provide a free consultation to at least let you know if your situation is that complex.The issue of medical privacy is covered by federal law in many cases. A major focus of that law has to do with how medical records are maintained by health care services and by employers. Thus, the doctor’s office with whom you communicate will certainly be well aware of what they can and cannot tell you (what you can and cannot ask.)

Once you do find out what you can ask for your specific situation, you will need to ensure that you handle that knowledge correctly. It is privileged information for those who have a need to know. The resources I suggested can also provide guidelines about that aspect of the situation.Finally, let me add this, as a workplace communication issue: When an employee is seeking a medical leave of absence, employers, supervisors and managers often have negative reactions that affect future relationships. It’s frustrating to lose the work of an employee and usually not be able to replace the employee.

Sometimes employees appear to be malingering. In other cases the employee has had several leaves of absence and the whole situation becomes very irritating.If you have negative feelings about this situation, try to take them out of it. Monitor everything you say and do about this employee, so that it never appears that you are being vindictive or unsympathetic. If you have other employees, they are probably watching this closely and talking about it–no matter how they feel about the specific situation. If the employee returns, maintaining a helpful relationship will assist in the transition back to work. If the employee leaves permanently you want to have shown by your actions that you are someone who is concerned, and decent to work with and for.Don’t be insincere and say one thing on the surface and another thing behind closed doors. Just keep the attitude that these kind of situations occur and your job is to help both the employee and your company work through them.If you feel positive about the employee, perhaps none of this will be a problem. But if you have negative feelings you may be challenged to show the kind of demeanor that is appropriate.

It’s worth it though, to work at it. Not only does it help you attract and retain higher quality employees than might be the case if you are not a good person to work for, it also will make you feel better about all of it.The Golden Rule still applies: How would you want to be treated if you were in the employee’s situation? The Reality Rule also applies: What do you need to do to make sure your business continues profitably, while still ensuring that you and your employees have good working relationships?Best wishes!

Tina Lewis Rowe