1st-Circuit-Column-BugA recent decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the protections of Massachusetts’ conditional privilege afforded to statements made by a psychiatrist to an employer in connection with a  fitness for duty evaluation by the psychiatrist.

In an opinion authored by Circuit Judge Bruce M. Selya on Oct. 1, 2019, the First Circuit in Zeigler v. Rater, No. 18-2150, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 29496, __ F.3d __ (1st Cir. Oct. 1, 2019), affirmed the district court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of the defendant Dr. Michael Rater, holding that no reasonable jury could find that Dr. Rater, a psychiatrist, abused the common law conditional privilege in Massachusetts when he disseminated an allegedly libelous report to an employer about an employee’s fitness to return to work after medical leave. In so ruling, the First Circuit provided further assurance to companies who turn to outside medical professionals when evaluating employees’ fitness-for-work. The ruling confirmed that medical professionals may reasonably consider credible “anecdotal” accounts of coworkers in evaluating an employee’s fitness and may also, to some extent, deviate from “best practices”  without losing the protections of the conditional privilege.

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