Can I be terminated from my job due to a side effect of a medication that I am on even though I have provided a doctor’s note?

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Can I be terminated from my job due to a side effect of a medication that I am on even though I have provided a doctor’s note?

I am on a medication that causes dry mouth. Since I work on the phone and talk to customers all day, I need to quinch my thirst. Quenching my thirst causes me to use the bathroom more than the average person. I have provided a doctor’s note explaining my frequent bathroom use but my boss is saying that it is not good enough because the note states quinching my dry mouth may cause me to use the bathroom more often. My boss is considering writing me up until it causes termination for something I cannot help. What can I do to protect my job?

Asked on April 9, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Indiana


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

You may not have anything you can do, unfortunately:

1) If  you don't have an employment contract, you are an employee at will; an employee at will may be termined at any time, for any reason, except those reasons specifically prohibited by law  (for example, illegal racial or sex-based discrimination).

2) A doctor's note, as a general matter, has  no legal power over an employer--the doctor is not an executive or representative of the employer, and has no right to change their employment policies or job descriptions.

3) Except as set forth in 4), below, an employer  may terminate someone who violates workplace rules, cannot do his or her job, misses time from work (or takes excessive breaks), or has poor performance, even if such is caused by medication or  medical condition. The law does not generally require employers to employ or pay people who can't effectively do their jobs.

4) The only exception is that IF your underlying medical condition qualifies as a disability, then under the law, the employer may be obligated to make "reasonable accomodations" for you. However, this doctrine is very limited in some significant ways:

a) Most medical conditions would not be considered disabilities for this purpose. To be a disability, the condition must have a significant impact on normal life functions and must not be readily controllable or curable.

b) A reasonable accomodation is a change in how the job is done, or the provison of some assistive devices or technology, which is not too costly or disruptive. If there is no reasonable accomodation, the employee may be terminated. So, for example, if your job is incompatible with frequent bathroom breaks, then even if you have  a disability, the employer may be legally able  to terminate you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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