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Employee became disabled? Adjust expectations

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

If a good employee has a sudden medical emergency and returns to work with lingering physical challenges, take his reintegration slowly and with compassion.

Now is not the time to push him to perform exactly as he did before he became disabled. Otherwise, you may end up with a disability discrimination lawsuit on your hands.

Recent case: Robert Sandell was in his late 50s when he was hired as vice president of sales for Taylor-Listug, a maker of high-end guitars. His specialty was creating sales goals for different territories based on demographics. He generally got good reviews, although he was urged to be a bit more friendly and outgoing.

Then Sandell had a stroke and took several months to recuperate. When he returned to work, he spoke much more slowly than before and depended on a cane to walk.

His boss—one of the company owners—asked Sandell when he was “going to get rid of the cane” and when he would “drop the dramatization.” The owner also complained about Sandell’s speech problems. Shortly after, Taylor-Listug fired Sandell.

He sued, alleging that he was disabled under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Sandell also claimed the owner had threatened him with discharge if he didn’t fully recover from the stroke.

The company first tried to claim that Sandell wasn’t disabled. The court disagreed, explaining that needing to use a cane for walking and speaking slowly were both physical problems that impacted major life activities.

It then went on to say Sandell had enough evidence that he had been discriminated against to warrant a jury trial. His boss had essentially told him to get better or get out. (Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, No. D055549, Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District, 2010)

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