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Less liability if you knew of disability on hiring

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employers worry that hiring a disabled employee increases the chances they will be sued for disability discrimination. They may fear that he’ll need accommodations or that the nature of the disability may mean he’ll be unreliable.

Don’t worry needlessly. The fact that you knew the employee was disabled actually helps later if he sues for discrimination. After all, you hired him knowing about the disability so you didn’t have any inherent prejudice against the disabled.

Recent case: Patrick, a recovering alcoholic, was hired to work in the mailroom. He began as a temporary worker and informed supervisors about his disability before he began working. They recommended him for a permanent position, which he held for the next seven years.

Patrick got regular raises and was commended for his excellent work, although supervisors noted that he needed to get along better with his co-workers. Patrick complained to anyone who would listen that one of those co-workers smelled of alcohol, which Patrick said made it hard to do his job. His requests for a ­transfer were denied.

Patrick got angry at HR and his supervisor for not allowing the transfer. Witnesses said he became “extremely loud, abrasive ... looking agitated, pointing his finger, and ... hollering.” One called it a “scary conversation.” He was terminated for insubordination and acting in a threatening manner.

Patrick sued, alleging disability discrimination.

The court tossed out the case, reasoning that the company hired Patrick knowing about his disability, gave him good reviews and regular raises and kept him employed for years. That indicated that his disability likely didn’t have much to do with the discharge decision and that his own behavior was the real reason. (Barron v. DeCare Dental, et al., No. 12-699, DC MN, 2013)

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