While some disabilities may make it more difficult for workers to control their temper or otherwise respond to nonverbal cues, that doesn’t mean those workers are excused from complying with behavioral rules. You can and should punish anyone who makes workplace threats regardless of disability status.
Simply put, “my disability made me do it” isn’t a valid excuse and doesn’t give disabled workers a pass.
Recent case: Christopher has a learning disability that impedes his comprehension and interpretation of body language, and he suffers from adult separation anxiety disorder. He worked as a sanitation laborer at an industrial facility.
One of the supervisors (though not Christopher’s direct manager) constantly criticized his work. Others told Christopher to simply stay away from that supervisor.
At one point, Christopher became angry that the supervisor called him a “retard” and a “dumbass.” He stated to several people that one day someone might take the verbal abuse the wrong way and something bad might happen to the supervisor as a result.
The company had a clear policy againstand threats. It conducted an investigation and concluded that both the supervisor and Christopher had behaved in ways that violated company rules—Christopher with threats and the supervisor with derogatory name-calling. Both were fired. Christopher sued.
The court tossed out his lawsuit. It reasoned that Christopher was still expected to abide by the no-threat rule. Plus, the employer also fired the supervisor for his unprofessional behavior. (Proudfoot v. Arnold Logistics, No. 14-4703, 3rd Cir., 2015)
Final note: Disabled employees aren’t exempt from conduct standards, even if their disabilities interfere with their ability to control their anger.
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