Employers that provide paid sick leave benefits often require doctors’ notes confirming the employee’s need to be out of work. Last month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against a Pennsylvania employer it alleges made prohibited medical inquiries as a condition of granting excused leave under its medical leave policy.
In its complaint, the EEOC alleges that the employer required employees to reveal the specific nature of their medical condition in order for the absences to be deemed excused, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC goes on to claim that the employer coerced, threatened and harassed employees who resisted disclosing this medical information. The agency is seeking injunctive relief, compensatory and punitive damages.
Under the ADA, employers must have business necessity to make medically-related inquiries of its employees. While employers can require confirmation that the employee was out of work for legitimate medical reasons (such as requiring a general doctor’s note), they should not condition sick leave approval on detailed medical information. Of course, if the leave extends long enough to be covered under the employer’s FMLA policy, the medical certification process allows them to gather more information about the nature of the condition.
Faced with administrative hassles over confirming the need for sick leave, in recent years many employers have shifted to a paid time off (PTO) policy, combining sick leave and vacation. These employers do not require employees to justify the need to use PTO, and simply request advance notice when the need for leave is foreseeable. PTO policies also have the advantage of avoiding the types of medical inquiry under challenge by the EEOC.