While you may think it isn’t necessary because it seems so obvious, you must warn supervisors that making fun of any impairment is asking for trouble. Remind them that they must focus on performance when criticizing work, even if they believe that an impairment is affecting performance.
Recent case: Delilah worked for United Airlines and developed hearing loss. The condition also affected her ability to speak clearly, which apparently irritated some of her co-workers and her supervisor.
After Delilah was fired for alleged, she sued, alleging disability discrimination and harassment.
She claimed that at various times, co-workers and supervisors would pinch their nose shut and talk as an imitation of how Delilah sounded, shout at her in an effort to get her attention and roll their eyes while complaining that they could not understand what she was saying.
Finally, a few days before her discharge, a supervisor told her that no one in the office could stand Delilah.
The court said her case could go to trial. (Martsolf v. United Airlines, No. 13-1581, WD PA, 2014)
Final note: Always focus on performance. That’s especially true if the employee hasn’t mentioned a disability or requested accommodations.
In this case, the best approach might have been to provide an evaluation listing work deficiencies such as, getting along with others and following directions, all without mentioning any suspicion that the cause might be the inability to hear and speak.
If the employee volunteers that the reason she’s having trouble is a hearing impairment, proceed to offer reasonable accommodations to help her do her job. If those accommodations (such as providing written instructions rather than oral ones) don’t work, you can proceed with discipline and discharge.
- Pursue claims, even if complaining worker backs off
- Make bosses justify hiring, promotion choices
- Handle supervisor harassment with a good policy, timely investigation and independent review
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