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Don’t ban employees from discussing a co-worker’s health

by on
in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Jolene Conn, a security guard at Lockheed Martin Astronautics, developed a medical condition that made it hard to carry a gun and take out "classified" trash. The company accommodated her, but the other guards complained. They said Conn's failure to carry a gun would make it hard for her to provide backup for other guards.

Conn got wind of the grumbling and filed an internal complaint that claimed all the talk was creating a hostile environment. Lockheed Martin tried to solve the problem by prohibiting Conn's co-workers from talking about her disability. Lockheed said it was merely trying to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) anti-harassment and confidentiality rules.

But the other guards filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the no-talk rule went overboard. The NLRB ruled in favor of the guards, saying Lockheed may have had good intentions, but its broad silence rule did go too far. (NLRB v. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, 330 NLRB No. 66)

Advice: The ADA does require you to keep information about a worker's disability confidential. But don't try to ban all talk of the disability. You can only, as this court says, prevent discussions that "might be construed as harassing or retaliatory."

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