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Absenteeism and Partnership
Nov 14, 2000

Let me say that this is a very informative resource; one I wish I had visited when I first seroconverted in May of this year. I am a physician employee of The Permanente Medical Group, the physician arm of Kaiser Permanente. I come before the group in 8 months for a preliminary partnership vote, then a final partnership vote a year later. Recently a memo was circulated stating that the average yearly sick leave for physicians in the group was 2 days (maximum permitted under contract, 24 days) and encouraged physicians to keep it that way in order to control costs. I have already exceeded the average, only 6 months into my diagnosis, for doctor's appointments and actually being sick. I am feeling well now, but I have come to work much more often than I ought to have done when I'm not feeling well, because I am afraid that my group will begin to suspect that something is wrong if I take more time off. This is my question: should I make Human Resources aware that I am a person with a disability, and put them on notice, so to speak, that I will be taking more than the average time off? When the partnership votes come up, I am afraid that the fact that I have a higher-than-average sick leave usage will adversely impact the decision. I wonder if by making HR aware early, that I improve my chances a)for this not to happen or b)for successful litigation later on if I suspect that I am in fact discriminated against on this basis.

Thank you


Response from Ms. Breuer

You are so wise to plan this in advance of the preliminary partnership vote. And your instincts are right on: by identifying yourself to your human resources director as a person with a disability, you can negotiate reasonable accommodations for your anticipated rate of absence. Here's the approach I recommend:

1. Talk with your own physician about any functional limitations your disability causes. In your case, the only functional limitation appears to be the need for more frequent leave time for medical appointments or illness.

Ask your physician to give you a note explaining that you are a person with a disability who is under his/her care and requesting that your employer accommodate your functional limitation (these terms reflect the language of

the Americans with Disabilities Act). It works best if you and your physician can estimate how much leave time beyond the stipulated amount you expect to need. There is no reason to include the diagnosis in the note. I recommend

that you ask for it to be omitted. At work, your medical information is confidential and you are under no obligation to reveal it.

2. Schedule an appointment with your human resources director to discuss reasonable accommodation. Begin the discussion by confirming your understanding that the content of your conversation will be strictly confidential. Present the note from your physician and engage the HR director in a conversation about how your situation can be accommodated.

3. Whatever agreement you reach should be documented, and you should receive a copy.

4. Use the intervening time to demonstrate that, with the accommodation you have requested, you are fully qualified and are successfully performing the essential functions of your job (all of this is Americans with Disabilities

Act language). Keep any records you have from this period, including correspondence with HR or from your supervisor about how well the accommodation is working.

5. If you observe behavior or receive written performance evaluations that do not square with your perception or the agreement you have negotiated, raise the issue right away with HR to see how the misunderstanding can be resolved.

This is a bit like establishing a credit history well in advance of applying for a large loan. Your question contains most of the answer; I've just elaborated here. You're in a strong position, and I wish everyone living with HIV could or would do this kind of planning so that promotions or partnerships were not lost. I wish you well, I think you're going to avoid discrimination and litigation by managing your situation well from the start, and I hope the partnership vote goes your way. I also hope that as you adjust to medications (if you're taking therapy), you'll find that your need for extra leave time will be less than you anticipate now. I wish you health!

Nancy Breuer

Nancy Breuer

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