If you miss work for more than a few days, most employers will require a doctor’s note, but what happens when the “boss” says that’s not enough?
News 5 Investigates has just learned Girl Scouts of Colorado is under investigation after a supervisor demanded to see an employee’s personal medical information.
The employee says she refused and suddenly found herself the target of bullying and retaliation.
The big question is: What can a company or employer legally ask you to disclose about a medical condition or diagnosis?
An employment attorney working this case says a supervisor with Girl Scouts of Colorado stepped over the line. Proving it, however, can be tough unless there’s audio evidence!
“I enjoyed my job and what I was doing because I felt I was making a difference,” a woman we’ll call “Heather” said.
Heather worked as a recruitment specialist for the organization since 2014.
In 2016, she had a medical issue. According to Heather, she missed three days of work and returned with a doctor’s note.
Apparently that doctor’s note wasn’t good enough for her “team lead” supervisor, Pamela Gomez-Gill. Heather says Gomez-Gill repeatedly asked her to disclose more personal information.
“I don’t understand why you would not want to say what it is,” Gomez-Gill told Heather in a conversation she recorded on her phone.
“Because it’s personal,” Heather replied.
“I don’t care,” Gomez-Gill said. “I kind of don’t care.”
Colorado is a 1-party consent state, meaning anyone can record a conversation as long as they are a party involved in it.
“She (Pamela) sat me down in her office, closed the door and bullied me,” Heather said. “She hit her hands on the desk, smacked her lips and rolled her eyes at me and tried to get me to tell her what was wrong with me and why I had been out for work.”
In the audio recording, Gomez-Gill became increasingly agitated when Heather stood her ground.
“I get it that you have been in a lot of pain,” Gomez-Gill initially stated. “I’m not expecting you to do strange and wonderful things. When I saw that you sent a doctor’s note, I expected the doctor’s note to leave you out for the whole weeks so you can get better although I don’t know what you’re getting better from because you won’t tell me. That’s irritating also my dear!”
Heather asked, “How is that irritating? I don’t have to tell you.”
“Sure you do,” Gomez-Gill replied.
“I legally do not,” Heather said.
Chris Wilhelmi is an attorney with Stinar Zendejas & Gaithe, PLLC. His law firm is representing Heather.
Chief investigative reporter Eric Ross asked, “Can an employer legally ask an employee to disclose medical information beyond what is already disclosed in a doctor’s note?”
“By all accounts—no, Wilhelmi said. “There is a limit to what employers can ask. Employees are, if they choose to be, free to disclose their medical information, but they aren’t required to by the law.”
According to the Girl Scouts policy handbook, Heather didn’t need to produce a doctor’s note unless she missed 5 or more days, she simply did it as a courtesy.
However, when she refused to answer additional medical questions, she claims Gomez-Gill and the organization as a whole retaliated by pulling her off big projects.
“She (Gomez-Gill) wasn’t happy,” Heather said. “She told me she could no longer trust me and from then on, I was her ‘whipping boy’ and nothing I would do was right.”
The situation got so bad, Heather says she felt that resigning was her only option.
After leaving the organization, her attorney filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and EEOC.
Wilhelmi says once that investigation is complete, his law firm plans to file a disability discrimination lawsuit against Girl Scouts.
“The working environment for that employee was so intolerable and difficult that a reasonable person in his or her shoes wouldn’t tolerate it and was forced to take action and quit,” he said.
Girl Scouts of Colorado refused to comment on Heather’s case, but acknowledged a complaint has been filed with the EEOC and Colorado Civil Rights Division.
“The matter is now in the investigative stage,” spokesperson Kristin Hamm said. “It remains our policy not to comment on ongoing litigation. Girl Scouts of Colorado does not release personnel files, information or policies to third parties.”
Wilhelmi wants compensation for Heather, but also wants Girl Scouts executives to better train team leaders on what they can and cannot ask employees to disclose. If an employer is concerned about the validity of a doctor’s note, he/she can call the doctor’s office and ask whether a note was issued to a particular employee.
“The viewers should care about this case because it involves a claim of disability discrimination,” he said. “It’s a status that can happen to anyone and it’s protected under the law. Although you may have lived a healthy life for so many years, whether it’s a car accident or your body and age, something has changed requiring you to have some type of accommodation at work.”
In 2015, a former employee Girl Scouts of Colorado for discrimination. Her case was ultimately dismissed on a technicality because she forgot to sign her name on the complaint. The lawsuit was not refiled.