Medical Problems, In Confidence

Last Updated Jun 8, 2007 2:01 PM EDT

I'm the manager in charge of a new sales team at my company, and a guy on the team told me that for the first six weeks of training, he had been cutting his kidney dialysis short to make it to work by 8 a.m. During the next six months, the team will be required to be here by 8 a.m., but he asked me if he could come in at 9 a.m. to complete his daily dialysis. He never told HR or the manager who hired him because he was worried that he wouldn't get the job.
images2.jpgI wasn't too familiar with dialysis, but my wife, who is a physician's assistant, told me that it would be very dangerous for him to continue cutting his treatments short. I agreed to let him come in late, but told him he needed to make up the time and lead the team in number of calls and quotes so that others on the team wouldn't bitch about the exception.
I have not told HR or his hiring manager because he told me about his condition in confidence, but I'm not sure I did the right thing. Where's the line?
Disclosing medical conditions to an employer is a touchy subject, with various legal arguments on either side of the coin. But in general, I side with the camp that says if it doesn't effect your job performance, it's none of your company's business.

In theory, undergoing dialysis treatment shouldn't effect your employees actual performance on the job; but in this case it effects his ability to get to work at a certain time because he has to take care of his problem. So, it kind of does.

I like your approach of challenging him to show results as a way to remove the potential for catty comments from other employees. You've given him the proper framework to prove that his condition does not effect his ability to deliver on the job he was hired to do.

If he can deliver, allowing him some leeway for his medical condition is no different than the little breaks a good manager will cut his employees to deal with life's intrusions. But in all cases, those breaks must be compensated with work on the other end.

If it becomes a situation where his medical condition is inhibiting his ability to do his job, you must bring the matter to the attention of human resources. This is not a drastic step; you're not ratting him out. You simply need to make everyone aware of his condition and find a way to give him the balance he needs to keep himself healthy while contributing to your company. If it comes to this, you should explain the situation to your employee before going to HR and tell him you want to help find a solution.

Dialysis is his life-support. The fact that he confided in you means that he hopes you'll be his work-support. If he can handle both fights, it's the least you can do. You made the right decision.

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  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.