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When an Employee's Mental Condition Requires Medication

October 1, 1997
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Related Topics: Disabilities, Discrimination and EEOC Compliance, Featured Article
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Some HR managers who have an employee with a psychiatric disability have made compliance with medication a condition of continuing employment. Most experts in the field caution against that approach. Here's why:

  • Focusing on compliance can distract the manager from the real focus: the employee's performance.
  • Compliance with medication is an issue between the employee and the treating health-care professional. Whether the employee is compliant or not, the manager's job is to evaluate performance.

Carol Miaskoff, assistant legal counsel for coordination at the EEOC's Washington, D.C., headquarters, says that every time an employer monitors medications, the employer may have to justify that decision later.

Supervising compliance with medications can open the door to unanticipated legal liabilities. Donald Hantula, an organizational psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, points out that one potential side effect of some major psychiatric medications is the development of serious facial tics and spasms. If that happens, and the employer has enforced compliance with the prescribed medication, who's liable?

There have been cases decided by the courts in which a person who refuses to take medications is still a qualified individual with a disability. Besides, holding an employee to a regimen not required of others can give the employee reason to file a complaint against the employer.

If the performance of an employee who has identified a psychiatric disability begins to suffer, the effective supervisor won't ask, "Have you been taking your medications as directed?" The effective supervisor will ask, as Peter Petesch, a management-side labor and employment attorney with Harrison and Ford LLP in Washington, D.C., recommends, "Your performance is slipping. Is there anything that can be done to get you on track?"

Workforce, October 1997, Vol. 76, No. 10, p. 33.

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