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Patience–and focus on job performance–are key when dealing with difficult employee

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

It’s often quite obvious when an em­­ployee is having personal problems that she needs to resolve. But employers have to treat such an employee carefully to avoid a possible ADA regarded-as-disabled lawsuit.

The key is patience and focusing on workplace performance issues rather than any suspected disability.

Recent case: Donna Clark worked for the state of New York as a clerk. She requested accommodations for alleged disabilities, which the state granted. Shortly after, she took a few weeks of FMLA leave.

After she returned, her supervisors observed behavior they found disturbing, such as accusing co-workers and superiors of calling her names.  Clark said they called her “crazy,” something her bosses concluded did not happen.

Finally, Clark was suspended and required to undergo a fitness exam. She agreed, but began complaining about conspiracies against her.

When she was terminated following required civil-service hearings, she sued, alleging retaliation for taking FMLA leave.

The court dismissed Clark’s case. It reasoned that nothing in her complaint made much sense, and that the state employer had acted reasonably when confronted with her sometimes bizarre workplace behavior. (Clark v. Dominique, et al., No. 1:10-CV-1073, ND NY, 2011)

Final note: The employer’s patience was rewarded. Nobody in this case treated Clark as if she were disabled. Instead, they focused on her behavior and fitness to perform her job.

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