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Stress from tough boss isn’t a disability

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some supervisors are hard to handle, especially for subordinates sensitive to criticism. But the resulting stress isn’t usually a disability under the ADA and therefore doesn’t have to be accommodated.

Recent case: Funmilayo worked as a verification specialist, determining which patients had what kind of insurance coverage. She had a serious health crisis when she suffered an aneurysm. She was hospitalized and had a stent inserted in her brain. For the next year, Funmilayo took a series of FMLA leaves each time the stent had to be checked. Meanwhile, her work performance deteriorated.

Returning from one FMLA leave, Funmilayo told an HR specialist that her supervisor had bullied her and that was why she was having trouble concentrating at work. Around the same time, her health counselor recommended additional time off for stress and anxiety. She got more FMLA leave.

When Funmilayo was about to return, her doctor recommended a part-time schedule for four weeks so she could learn to better handle workplace stress. Her request was denied.

Funmilayo didn’t return to work—but she did sue, alleging that she should have been accommodated with more time off.

The court disagreed. It concluded that while her anxiety and other psychological problems may have been distressing, they weren’t disabling. The reason: Funmilayo was only unable to perform a specific job, not a range of jobs. Therefore, the court never had to decide whether the part-time schedule was a reasonable accommodation. (Adetimehin v. Healix Infusion Therapy, No. 4:14-CV-334, SD TX, 2015)

Final note: Additional time off for a specific period may be a reasonable accommodation under the ADA if the employee is disabled. That’s why you should not have an automatic discharge policy for workers who have used up all leave.

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