Why You Need to Know the Difference Between HR and an MD

Medical diagnoses are not part of my job.

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Suzanne Lucas
I recently answered a question about a man who fell asleep on the job over at my blog. Over the years, I've answered several questions about how to handle employee bad behavior, and I frequently get comments suggesting that the manager, or someone in HR, should have assumed a medical problem caused the behavior.

I can't speak for all HR people, but my medical training consists of: (1) having a mom who is an RN, (2) Watching ER until it got too soap opera-ish, and (3) reading medical blogs. This does not qualify me in the least to diagnose sleep disorders, panic disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, pneumonia, influenza, depression, toenail fungus or any other medical problem an employee might have. Now, I might be able to recognize some symptoms (e.g. Gee, Bill seems to wear sandals a lot and his toes sure do look funny!), but other than saying to someone, "You look sick, you ought to go home and rest," medical diagnoses are not part of my job.

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So, what does that mean in practical terms? It means that you need to be responsible for yourself. You cannot live in denial about your problems. Yes, the Americans with Disabilities Act offers you some protections for various problems. The Family and Medical Leave Act can guarantee you some time off to deal with your medical problems. But your company can only provide these accommodations and protections if they know about them. If you have ADD and can't concentrate when you are in a cube, you may be a better performer in a closed door office. But, I'm not going to move you there until you ask. Sure, I might say, "You're not getting your work done in a timely fashion, what can I do to help?" And you can say, "I work better in a quiet environment," and then we can go from there. But, don't wait for your manager or HR to ask what the problem is. They might not ever ask and you'll never reach your full potential.

I realize that you may not want to share your medical problems with the whole office. You shouldn't have to. But, you do need to take responsibility for yourself. Many companies have Employee Assistance Programs, which are usually toll-free numbers you can call. These people can help and direct you in ways your manager and HR cannot. If you are going through a divorce, or your mother died, or your finances are a mess, they can help you. And guess what? I've never heard of an EAP that reports back the names of the people who called.

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Not everyone has access to great healthcare, and not everyone can afford to take time off work. But, no one can afford to assume that others will jump in, diagnose, and fix your problem. You have to be in charge of your life and your career. This sometimes means listening to your friends and family and getting help when they think you need it. If not, you'll still have your problem and you'll also have the problem of being unemployed. Don't do that to yourself. Take charge, ask for help, and work with your manager, doctor, HR, and family to come to a solution. We can't help if we don't know what the problem is.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources Certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.