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Beware asking one question too many

When the plaintiff applied for short-term disability benefits, he told the insurance company that he suffered from stress, anxiety and an addiction to prescribed narcotics. He was granted the requested medical leave of absence, took the leave, returned to work, received a write-up and resigned. He sued his employer for a number of alleged violations.

First, he claimed he’d been subjected to a hostile work environment because of his alleged disability. He said the hostile work environment included being “sarcastically belittled” and called “a baby.” The Court dismissed the claim, holding his allegations were not severe enough to violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), even if true.

Second, he claimed he’d been discriminated against because he’d been “regarded as” disabled when the company had allegedly required him to pass a drug test and to remain in the drug testing program for five years. The Court dismissed that claim as well, noting that he was the one who had asked for leave due to substance abuse and that the evidence established the employer treated others who did the same in the same way.

Finally, he argued that the company had wrongfully required him to disclose all legally prescribed medications he was using. Here, the Court held, if true, the employer had gone too far. The ADA strictly limits companies’ ability to request medical information, and the Court remanded the case for the lower court to determine what had actually happened. The Court noted that the f company could still provide it complied with the ADA’s rules. In short, the employer will have to prove it had a “business necessity” for the request and that the request was job-related given the plaintiff’s individual duties.

Employers are reminded to consult with experienced counsel when confronted with difficult cases involving leaves, disabilities, addiction and safety concerns.

The case was Williams v. FedEx Corporate Services, — F.3d — (10th Cir. 2/24/17).