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No free disability pass for insubordination

by on
in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Employers have the right to ex­­­pect everyone to behave ap­­pro­­pri­­ately at work. That includes employees with mental disabilities who may have trouble with communication and perception. What that means: You are free to punish inappropriate behavior regard­less of its cause.

Recent case: Peter Weesner worked for U.S. Bank in the computer-­support division. He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, but claims that medication controls his condition. Weesner ex­­plained to his supervisors that his condition makes him perceive some comments as so stressful that he shuts down and blocks out the conversation to return to “a better state of mind.”

After a heated conversation with a supervisor, he asked HR to intervene. Weesner wondered whether he might be allowed to “take the conversation to HR” as a reasonable ADA accommodation when communications problems arose. HR agreed to give it a try.

Then Weesner began regularly drag­­ging his supervisors to the HR office. At one point, he accused an HR rep of being insensitive and biased. During a meeting to discuss his allegations, HR had two employees present. They later testified that they felt threatened by Weesner’s behavior, which included finger-pointing.

Weesner was terminated for in­­­­subordination during the meeting. He then sued, alleging failure to accommodate.

The court dismissed his case. It reasoned that the accommodation Weesner wanted—essentially unfettered access to HR whenever he wanted—was unreasonable. (Weesner v. U.S. Bank, No. 10-2164, DC MN, 2011)

Final note: The result might have been different if Weesner’s behavior had been truly involuntary. For example, someone with a mental disorder characterized by facial tics or uncontrollable outbursts might be entitled to more leeway (sometimes the case for employees with Tourette syndrome).

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