A Michigan appeals court thinks so, ruling that an employer violated the ADA by directing an erratic employee to undergo a psychological evaluation. To keep the company on safe legal ground, experts suggest that HR focus on showing how such conduct affects an employee's performance rather than trying to determine the behavior's root cause.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently found that psychological counseling qualifies as the type of exam designed to diagnose mental health issues or reveal a mental illness that, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are prohibited from requiring employees to undergo. The ruling sends the case back to a lower court to determine the "business necessity" of an employer's request ? and subsequent demand -- that an employee seek psychological counseling after a series of emotional outbursts at work.
The employee, Emily Kroll, was an emergency medical technician with Whitehall, Mich.-based White Lake Ambulance Authority, where she had generally been regarded as a "good EMT" and "good employee" by direct supervisor Brian Binns, according to court documents.
Kroll's behavior and standing as an employee in good stead reportedly changed, though, when she became romantically involved with a married co-worker. In 2008, Binns and office manager Jean Dresen began to receive reports from Kroll's colleagues expressing their concern for her mental well-being. On the heels of those reports, Dresen suggested that Krolls see a mental health professional -- a request that Krolls ultimately declined.
Within days of that discussion, however, Kroll got involved in a cell phone screaming match with a male acquaintance -- while she was driving an ambulance with a patient in the back, during an emergency situation. In a meeting after that incident, Binns told Kroll that she "must attend counseling in order to continue working at WLAA," court records indicate.
Kroll allegedly told Binns that she would not attend counseling, left the meeting and did not return to work with the company. She subsequently filed a lawsuit on charges that included a violation of the ADA. A lower court dismissed the charges, but an appellate court ruled that Kroll had presented enough evidence that a jury could conclude the counseling Kroll was directed to attend constituted a medical exam under the ADA.