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Solving for the unknown: No duty to accommodate disability that employee never revealed

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Accommodating a disability you don’t know about can be difficult. Yet, some disabled employees never tell employers about their con­­ditions—even if their disability could affect performance. And of course you know you shouldn’t treat employees as disabled unless they claim a disability.

That means supervisors shouldn’t suggest that a physical or mental condition is causing performance problems.

But what if you fire someone for poor performance? Can she sue, alleging failure to accommodate her disability?

Recent case: Rosalina Anguiano worked as an assembler at an orthodontics plant. During the time she worked there, she made numerous mistakes, often exceeding both her monthly and annual rate of permissible errors. The company frequently warned her that she faced termination if she didn’t bring her error rate down.

Anguiano developed a problem with her hands that caused them to swell and turn purple. She didn’t go to the doctor with her problem, but instead treated it herself. Anguiano taped her wrists to control the pain, leaving her fingertips exposed. She told no one about the problem.

She was finally terminated when her performance didn’t improve. That’s when she sued, alleging that she had not been reasonably accommodated and that she made mistakes because her hands hurt.

Her employer admitted that she was disabled, but pointed out that she never told anyone and therefore it couldn’t have accommodated her. The court agreed. (Anguiano v. Ormco, No. B228600, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2011)

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