Does Your Employee Have A Medical Condition or a Poor Performance Problem?
Generally, employers are under no obligation to determine whether or not an employee’s substandard performance may be caused by a disability. However, if the employer has received notice that the employee has a disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the employer may have an obligation to work with the employee to find a reasonable accommodation prior to taking disciplinary action against the employee or firing the employee for performance problems.
Many conditions that may affect an employee’s performance may not be obvious by looking at an employee but still may receive protection under the ADA as a disability. For example, an employee may inform the employer that he or she has been diagnosed with depression. Afterward, the employer may notice a decline in the employee’s performance. The employer does not have a duty to assume that the performance issues are related to the employee’s medical condition. Rather, the employer should meet with the employee and ask him or her to explain the change in work quality. If the employee states that it is caused by his or her depression, the employer must then engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine whether some accommodation, such as a leave of absence, might assist the employee in performing the functions of his or her job. However, if the employee does not link the performance problem to his or her disability, then the employer is not required to assume that they are related.
Furthermore, if no reasonable accommodation exists or is effective in improving the employee’s performance, the employer is not required to lower the expectations for job performance to accommodate the employee and to avoid termination.