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My supervisor is harassing me. It became personal when ...

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My supervisor is harassing me. It became personal when he asked for verification from my doctor that I do not have a communicable disease. Can he legally do this?
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  4ren6 replied 6 years ago.
What type job do you have. What was the reason they say they needed this info.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
I work for a parish church - part of the larger Catholic Archdiocese. The first thing that happened was my supervisor shared a complaint with me - two anonymous letters and three verbal complaints he said he had received (2 from staff, 1 from parishioner) - about my "very strong body odor" making people nauseous, offensive, etc. This is just not the case. He then told me that he had told the church school nurse about the issue because he thought it would be easier for me to talk with her about it - and that he "expected" me to talk with her within the week. I didn't think he was supposed to discuss my personal issues/health with another employee, so I checked with Human Resources and they said that no, he could only perhaps suggest that I could do that. I said a woman in the parish whom I trust and who also is an attorney let me know that a supervisor should - if something like this is an issue - should make me aware of the issue and then let me handle it with my own medical professional. The supervisor - when we met again a week later - said that he was upset that I hadn't done what he had asked - that he didn't care anymore about the body odor issue; that my "insubordination" was the issue for him. I said that I had checked with HR ...so he backed off until he could consult with them. The next day he met with me and began by saying, "Well, I checked with HR, and I guess there's another way to handle this." I was trying to be agreeable, so I asked what he was thinking.. He said that I had mentioned "handling it with my own doctor..." so he wanted to request a brief note from the doctor - not to put in my file or share with anyone else - just to assure him so he could reassure the complainers. He then went on to change his story to the complaints being about "people are concerned that you have a communicable disease" (!) because some of them are aware of your recent health issues. (A couple of co-workers know that I was having some women's health issues a few months ago and that I had become anemic...) I actually could not even respond at that moment... but he is still expecting that I will get a note from my doctor that I am "not contagious." I called HR but haven't gotten a call back yet to relate this second request.

Thank you.
Expert:  4ren6 replied 6 years ago.

Unless you yourself give your employer the information on any health problems they can not legally ask you to obtain what they are asking unless it causes an undue hardship on the employer. Such as long term sick leave where it does cause an issue.

If you worked in food, health or a number of other areas where you exhibited symptoms of a medical illness they could and can legally ask. Again, unless you have brought the medical condition (if one exist) to their attention then the proper manner to handle this would be through the HR or through your senior superiors simply letting you know of the issue. To ask for a CD test for claims of body odor is absurd and asking for the note to verify from the doctor is illegal.......You may wish to retain legal council familar with work place discrimination.

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Reply to 4ren6's Post: Thank you for your quick answer. Unfortunately, this supervisor is aware of some limited information.. being anemic... (also, quite frankly, one day I was menstruating very heavily and suddenly soiled clothes... so I had to leave work suddenly and unexpectedly - I believe I felt I had to explain that to the supervisor) ... there are some things I had previously shared in the course of taking a sick day... but nothing that people in the US in the year 2008 would think would be a communicable disease. So I guess you're saying he "does" have the right to ask for information and assurance from a doctor if he has received health info from me?
Expert:  4ren6 replied 6 years ago.

Yes, under certain circumstances. But from what you have described........you have given them no clear precise cause or reason to ask you to be checked for a CD. Tell you what. Let me opt out on this. I would like to have one of our medical Doctors who works legal as well take a look at this. I believe he would have some further additional info. Please be patient. I will now forward this over to him.

Expert:  4ren6 replied 6 years ago.
I have forwarded your question over to the MD. I feel that he can give you better assistance on this particular question. He is not online at this time but should be on soon and he will get the message to post back here. You will get an email notice if not online. thanks again for being patient.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you very much.
Expert:  BusinessDoc replied 6 years ago.
The other expert asked me to review your question. As a physician, and one of the employment laws experts here I think there are a number of things that need to be considered:
  • From an employer point of view, it is very difficult to bring up the issue of body odor, and while you may feel that this is harassment - I suspect that your employer anguished over the need to talk to you about this. In fact, it seems that your supervisor was trying to be sensitive to this issue by suggesting you talk to a nurse, rather than delve into potentially sensitive issues. I suspect that your supervisor had never had to tell someone about this, and really just didn't know what to do.
  • I had one patient - a nursing student - who was having problems at clinical sites because she was being accused of coming to the site "drunk". This was based on the fact that her breath smelled strongly of stale beer. Despite several negative blood alcohol tests - the hospitals were considering not allowing her to participate in patient care - effectively ending her career before it even started. To make a long story short - it turned out when she brought all of her pills, creams, shampoos etc in to the office - and I opened the one bottle - I immediately knew the problem. Her ginko supplement had this exact odor. It may be something as simple as something you are eating, or something you are using - which when mixed with your particular body chemistry causes the problem.
  • There are a number of potential serious medical conditions that can cause body odor. For this reason alone, I would encourage you to discuss this issue with your physician.
  • As an "at will" employee, your employer can terminate you for issues related to appearance (grooming) and hygiene (including offensive body odor). If this odor is the result of a medical condition that meets the definition of a disability under the ADA, the employer may need to offer reasonable accommodations - only to the extent that these accommodations do not pose an undue hardship to the employer. To request such an accommodation you have to provide evidence that you have a disability. Without an examination from a physician - this is not possible.
  • In the end - I believe that the employer is trying to do the right thing - They could have just fired you for this problem (you would likely have been able to collect unemployment). Asking your doctor for a letter that say that you have been evaluated for this problem, and that there is not contagious disease is NOT really releasing any confidential information. If there is some other non-contagious cause - it need not be disclosed to comply with their request.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for all your points. Your answer presupposes an actual body odor problem. There is actually a real lack of "evidence" for the claim of complaints - two anonymous letters and three verbal complaints for which he will not reveal the source. Many other people with whom I work closely on a daily basis have denied that this is a body odor problem.

In the time since I asked this question two hours ago and now, I just visited with a personal physician. The physician documented our conversation about the issue of body odor and also about the request for verification about a CD. She said she was not going to give me a note, because she understood that it was not something the supervisor could require of me. If, down the line, the visit and conversation needed to be confirmed, she would be able to give documentation. She said there was no reasonable reason for the supervisor to have brought up the subject of communicable disease...I really am not sure what that is based on in the supervisor's/complainant's mind...

Thank you.
Expert:  BusinessDoc replied 6 years ago.
I'm glad to know that you did see your doctor. I would not suspect a contagious disease as one of the causes of body odor, however I am medically trained. The supervisor (and presumably the people complaining) don't know what may cause odors - and therefore the are guessing or worried.
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