Adaptive technologies are allowing more Americans to get back to work after injuries, illnesses and other impairments. But make sure your supervisors realize that uneducated comments about those technologies and aids (in this case, a simple cane) can trigger expensive disability discrimination lawsuits …
Case in Point: After 30 years of sales experience in the music industry, Robert Sandell took a job as a senior VP of sales at a California guitar manufacturing company.
One day, Sandell became sick and went to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a stroke. He stayed in the hospital for a few weeks and recovered at home for several more weeks. When he returned to work, his speech was somewhat slower and he now used a cane to get around.
Soon after he returned to work, Sandell says the CEO, “came in my office … and closed the door and said that if I didn't make a full recovery, that the company had the right to fire me or demote me and reduce my salary.”
The CEO also suggested Sandell used the cane to garner sympathy. Sandell says the CEO asked, “When I was going to get rid of the cane and when I was going to drop the dramatization.” A few days after Sandell turned 60, the company fired him.
Sandell filed a disability discrimination lawsuit, saying the company regarded him as disabled and fired him based on that presumption. The court sent the case to trial, saying that requiring a cane to walk is enough evidence that a person is limited in a major life activity and, thus, disabled under the law. (Sandell v. Taylor-Listug Inc., Cal. Ct. App., No. D055549, 9/7/10)
3 Lessons Learned …Without Going to Court
1. Employees with disabilities can still work. That’s why there are laws to protect them.
2. Canes are welcomed in the workplace. Based on the growing age and disability claims, we will probably be seeing more of them. Get ready.
3. Zip your lips. No comments about employees’ canes, hearing aids, glasses, special chairs … you get it.