Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Public Service Announcement: No One is Out to Get You!

Due to the flu epidemic overwhelming my doctor's office, I have recently had the pleasure of waiting for hours at an urgent care facility.  While I was there I couldn't help but over hear the conversation between the receptionist and another patient.  Don't worry, there were no HIPAA violations to report - but there was the giving of some very bad "legal" advice by someone who didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

Apparently the patient had previously been seen for some illness which caused him to miss several days of work.  His work asked for a doctor's note to explain the absence and asked that the note include dates of treatment and diagnosis.  The patient took offense at the request and according to his ranting at the front desk of a public waiting room, this was a gross invasion into his privacy.  The employer was being unreasonable and wanting information they had no right to.  The receptionist agreed and was appropriately outraged on his behalf.  She then went on to encourage him to fight this with his employer and assured him that they had no "legal" right to the information they were requesting.  In the very qualified opinion of the person who answers phones for a living, the employer was being unreasonable and must only be requesting this information as a way of trapping the patient into something nefarious.  By the end of the conversation, the patient was ready to take the case to the EEOC and sue for discrimination.  I doubt either of them thought about the fact that if he takes such steps the "private" information he's trying to protect would have to be disclosed.

The entire time I was witnessing this I couldn't help but wonder if many employees have such distrust of simple and innocent policies such as requiring a doctor's note for prolonged absences.  No where in their conversation was it mentioned that the policy may be to protect other employees from infectious diseases, or to verify compliance with FMLA regulations, or even to disqualify this particular absence from counting towards some disciplinary standard.  No, according to these two the employer was clearing out to somehow screw the employee.

While I didn't get involved in that conversation for a number of ethical and practical reasons, I do want to take a moment to reassure employees everywhere that with very few exceptions, your company doesn't care that much about you to establish procedures and policies specifically meant to railroad you into some disadvantaged position.  Most policies that you don't like have a practical reason that has nothing to do with you.  Some are even put in place to protect the company against overzealous employees who think every policy is somehow an invasion into their personal rights and a reason to sue.

So here's my public service announcement of the week:  No one is out to get you!  As someone who writes policies and approves procedures, we don't really give a damn if you were sick with the flu or drank too much.  I just need to be able to classify the absence as indicating treatment under FLMA or ADA or not.  The policy isn't written or enforced to "get you", it there to protect the company.  So get the note and get over it. 

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