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Worried about ADA: Can we discipline for misbehavior caused by medical condition?

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Q. One of our employees recently violated a work rule by shouting at his supervisor. After the incident, the employee disclosed to the company for the first time that he had a mental disorder that he claims caused his conduct. Can we discipline him, or would that be disability discrimination?

A. The ADA prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Even assuming that this employee has a disability, it is unlikely that imposing discipline for his actions would violate the ADA, as long as two conditions are met:

  1. The punishment is consistent with previous discipline against others for similar violations.
  2. The rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

In other words, this employee’s disability does not ex­­cuse his past misconduct. However, you may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to meet expected standards of conduct in the future, barring an undue hardship.

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