Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Employer Can Require Medical Exam after Employee Claims Co-workers are Watching Her at Work and Home

Last month, a Michigan District Court addressed the issue of whether an employer can force a seemingly unstable employee to take a medical examination before returning to work.

In Monroe v. Consumers Energy, Ms. Monroe had worked for Consumers Energy for nearly 13 years when her supervisor had noticed a change in her behavior. Monroe was losing focus and concentration, in turn affecting her work performance, and had stopped interacting with her co-workers. Following these observations, at the end of 2013, Monroe filed a complaint with her employer stating that she was being tracked and surveilled by her co-workers. Among the allegations made in this complaint, Monroe stated that her co-workers were intercepting her personal text messages on her personal phone, placing listening devices in both her office and the office next to her, recording her both in her office and at her home with video cameras, and installing a GPS tracking device in her car and listening to her through her car’s key FOB.

After an investigation of the allegations made in the complaint, and a meeting with Monroe, the Director of Human Resources arranged to have Monroe take an independent medical examination (IME) to determine if she was able to perform her position’s essential functions. Monroe underwent the IME and the doctor determined “indications of a high degree of interpersonal sensitivity, tendency toward paranoid thinking and difficulty in interpersonal relationships.” In accordance with these results, the doctor recommended 12 sessions of counseling before she return to work.

Monroe refused to attend these counseling sessions, remained on paid sick leave, and 10 months later contacted her employer about returning to work. After undergoing a second IME, the doctor concluded that while Monroe had made improvements, he still believed she should participate in the counseling before going back to work. Monroe then filed an EEOC complaint against her employer claiming she was regarded as disabled under the ADA and discriminated against when they required her to undergo the IME.

The court looked at the ADA specifically and made one primary conclusion: Monroe’s behavior, including the allegations made in her complaint as well as her performance issues at work, gave her employer reason to look into whether she was capable of effectively doing her job.

Section 12112(d)(4)(A) of the ADA permits medical and psychological examinations, including IMEs, so long as they are consistent with business necessity. When Monroe’s ability to perform in the position she held at work was threatened by the behavior she was exhibiting, her employer had reason to require her to undergo an IME as well as the followed recommendations.

While the ADA does prohibit employers from requiring medical examinations or inquiring as to whether an employee is an individual with a disability, if it is done with a job-related purpose or with business necessity, the ADA allows for it. Once an employee’s personal issues begin affecting their work performance, requiring them to take an IME, and conditioning their return to work on it, is allowed.