Teachers: What are your legal rights if you are too anxious to return to school?

Teachers: What are your legal rights if you are too anxious to return to school?

Mariam Sulakian
Mariam Sulakian
 | 
A teacher suffering from Major Depression Disorder and Anxiety Disorder is hesitant to re-enter the physical classroom due to her disabilities, which are covered under the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

She requests sick leave for the first few days of the transition back into the physical classroom for mental health reasons. This is the first time all year she is requesting any sort of leave. Human Resources (HR) informs her that she needs to submit a letter from a psychiatrist in order to receive sick leave. 

The employer’s existing leave policy is generally lenient and employees are not typically asked for “proof” of illness or doctor’s notes. Instead, sick leave is permitted for a certain number of days per year based on the employee’s statement of necessary leave.

However, the teacher (unaware of her rights) submits the note from her psychiatrist that states how her condition substantially limits major life activities and would impact her immediate return to the physical workforce. 

The teacher submits three days of sick leave following the discussion with her doctor and informs her supervisor. HR calls the teacher again and requests additional doctor’s notes for every day that she requests leave, e.g. a note showing she was at a medical professional’s office during work hours. 

No other employee has been or currently is prompted to submit “evidence” for sick leave.

Are the teacher’s rights under the ADA violated by the employer?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employer “should treat the employee requesting the leave the same as an employee who requests leave for reasons unrelated to a disability.”
It is thereby possible that the teacher is discriminated against due to her disabilities. Firstly, the employer has requested information not asked of any other employee in order to approve sick leave. 

The school has further failed to suggest possible accommodations for her, e.g. potentially continuing her teaching in the online environment since school time is split physically and virtually and she can complete her duties in the classroom online (assume a counterpart teacher can handle the in-person aspects of the work). In fact, no steps have been taken by the employer to determine reasonable accommodation.

While this is one example of a potential situation discriminating against disabilities that may come up with disabilities and leave amidst COVID-19, it is not the only case wherein employers may illegally dismiss matters of disabilities–especially “invisible” disabilities.

If you feel your rights have been violated, consult with a LawChamps attorney for legal guidance.

A small note...

As many of us begin to embark on the virtual to physical workforce, remember to practice empathy and understanding for your colleagues and those around you. You never know the type of struggle someone else is dealing with, whether due to mental health or otherwise. 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
Mariam Sulakian

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