District Court in Louisiana Finds Police Department Sick Leave Policy Too Broad

By: Loyd Willaford and Sarah Burke

In Taylor v. City of Shreveport, a group of Shreveport, Louisiana police officers sued their Shreveport Police Department (“SPD”) after they were required to submit detailed doctor’s notes after two days of sick leave. The SPD countered that the policy was necessary to determine fitness for duty. The District Court ruled that a jury could find that the policy was overly-broad and the SPD did not have a valid business reason to require it.

The policy in question required officers to produce a doctor’s note after the officer used any two days of undocumented sick leave in a calendar year. The doctor’s note needed to include: whether the condition was chronic; whether more absences may occur; and the diagnosis, treatment, and ability of the officer to return to work.

According to the Deputy Chief of the SPD, the purpose of inquiring into an officer’s chronic condition after documented sick leave was necessary for four reasons. First, the policy helped determine whether an officer was able to perform the essential functions of the job. Second, the policy ensured the safety of other officers. Third, the policy “… assists the Department in scheduling officers in order to provide adequate police coverage.” Fourth, regarding the issue of fitness for duty, the policy allowed the SPD “… to determine if an additional medical examination is necessary before allowing an officer to return to work.”

Federal law prevents discrimination against persons solely because of their disability. However, employers may produce a business reason to excuse the discriminatory conduct. Here, the District Court did not believe the SPD produced a valid business reason. The District Court stated:

Taking a few days of sick leave, by itself, does not constitute a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to doubt a law enforcement officer’s ability to perform his duties. …

Second, even if [the SPD] were to require a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason to doubt job performance before it required a chronic-condition inquiry, the inquiry would still be broader than necessary because it requires disclosure of chronic conditions regardless of whether they affect job performance or attendance. Inquiries ‘must be limited in scope to what is needed to make an assessment of the employee’s ability to work.’

In light of this, the District Court disregarded all four of the reasons provided by the SPD because the policy sought more information than was necessary and ruled that the case could go to a jury.

This case is an example of how some employers overreach in attempting to obtain medical information about its employees.   The broad policy here would allow the employer to collect information which could then be used for a discriminatory purpose later.  The City as much as admitted that this was its intent when it stated it wanted to use the information to decide staffing levels and whether fitness for duty exams would be necessary.

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