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Mental health concerns? Focus on behavior

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Worried an employee may have an undisclosed mental disability that is causing problems at work? Don’t treat him with kid gloves or suggest he seek mental health care.

Instead, focus on the problematic behavior. You are free to discipline anyone who breaks your rules, even if you suspect unresolved mental health issues may be involved.

Recent case: Dean worked for Bon Appetit, which runs school cafeterias. He had frequent run-ins with co-workers over stories he told of being a spy and having allegedly been exposed to secret military testing.

Dean filed several internal complaints about being harassed at work.

Then he wrote a letter to Bon Appetit’s head of security, outlining a number of wild charges. For example, Dean wrote that he was being controlled by a Satanic cult involving a co-worker who “comes from HELL and by that I mean a very dark place.”

Dean asked for a transfer to another school, because he’d “rather work with a bunch of Bible thumpers than pagan sons and daughters.”

Around this time, other co-workers reported that Dean’s behavior made them so nervous that they had to go out of their way to avoid topics that seemed to upset him. Eventually, Bon Appetit terminated Dean for violating the company’s anti-harassment policy.

Then Dean sued, alleging that he was disabled and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The court tossed out his lawsuit. It reasoned that Dean never claimed he was disabled while he was employed. Even if he were, he had been fired for breaking company rules against harassment and not on account of any alleged disability. (Lange v. Bon Appetit, No. 14-784, DC MN, 2015)

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