We have an employee whose apparent memory loss issues are severely impacting her job performance. What would be a good approach for this problem?

This must be approached as a performance issue and not a medical or psychological problem. Your assumptions about the employee’s mental state or medical problems must not be part of the process.

There are many causes for memory loss – including Alzheimer’s, alcoholism, drug abuse or mental health conditions such as depression. The employer has no right to make diagnoses or to force treatment. The employee may be in denial about the severity of the situation. She may not remember how often she has forgotten important information.

The recommended approach is a private meeting with a management person and a HR person. This should be a calm discussion of employee performance issues with specific documented examples of when something important was forgotten. It must be made clear that this performance is not acceptable and will bring on discipline (up to termination) if it continues. It is OK to express concern about the employee’s health and to suggest medical care to determine the cause of the problems. This meeting should include a written warning for performance but without mention of forgetfulness.

The employer must realize that if the employee seeks medical attention she is under no obligation to discuss diagnosis or treatment with the employer. There is a good chance this employee will require ADA accommodation at some point but if the performance is not adequate with reasonable accommodation the employee can be fired.

Hope that helps you out. =)

A note about HR laws:
Laws concerning employee treatment, benefits, hiring and firing…etc are multi-level. What this means is that there are Federal laws, state laws and sometimes local regulations that have jurisdiction over an employee. The information presented here should not be considered legal advice. Ultimately, employers with serious legal questions should consult local attorneys with expertise in worker relations.
The questions and answers presented here are based on research and data from internet sources and should not be considered the final word.

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