An investigator with the Maine Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has found that Pan Am Railways violated the disability discrimination provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) when it dismissed a Skowhegan man named David Crockett. According to news reports, Pan Am sent Mr. Crockett for a mental health evaluation when he allegedly barked like a dog at work. Mr. Crockett’s own health care provider cleared him to work but Pan Am wanted Mr. Crockett to see a doctor of its own choice. The company’s doctor said Mr. Crockett would need to see a psychiatrist, a brain specialist, before she would clear him to return to work. Mr. Crockett was told that he would need to see the brain specialist for 12-18 sessions at a rate of $150/hour, which he could not afford. Pan Am refused to pay for the brain specialist and then dismissed Mr. Crockett because he could not pay for the brain specialist to evaluate him and clear him to work.
“The employer cannot shift the burden onto the employee to obtain medical evidence of his or her ability to work safely, nor can the employer shift the cost of the medical evaluation onto the employee,” the MHRC investigator wrote in her report.
Employers must meet a relatively strict standard before they may require an employee to undergo a medical evaluation. Under both Maine and federal law, an employer cannot require an employee to undergo a medical evaluation unless the evaluation is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.” One way an employer can satisfy this standard is if it observes the employee exhibiting symptoms that indicate he may have a medical condition that would impair his ability to do the essential functions of his job or would create a threat to his or another person’s safety. It appears as though that was what the MHRC investigator found happened in Mr. Crockett’s case and, so, Pan Am would not have violated the MHRA by requiring him to undergo a medical evaluation if it had just agreed to pay for it.
If your employer is requiring you to undergo a medical evaluation and/or it has refused to pay for it, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.