After an argument between Manuella Reed and a co-worker, her plant manager told Reed she should walk away from altercations and contact a supervisor. Months later, Reed got into a heated discussion with the HR director. She flew into a blind rage and swore at him.
Reed then went to the head of personnel and explained that she suffers from bipolar disorder, which causes her to lose her temper. She said she needed an accommodation allowing her to walk away from stressful situations, but the HR director had prevented her from doing that.
Reed was fired for insubordination. She sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court tossed out the case, saying the ADA "is not a license for insubordination in the workplace." (Reed v. LePage Bakeries. Inc., No. 00-1966, 1st Cir., 2001)
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wanted to get the case overturned, saying Reed was unfairly forced to bear the burden of showing that her request (being allowed to walk away from conflicts) was a reasonable accommodation. But the appeals court sided with the company, saying the worker does need to prove this fact.
The fatal flaw in this case, however, was that Reed never showed that she actually requested the accommodation or notified the company of her bipolar disorder. The supervisor's direction to walk away from conflicts was the same advice given to all workers.
Advice: You have no duty to accommodate employees if they don't give you notice of their illness and request an accommodation. But when you are on notice of a disability, be prepared to work with the employee to determine
the right accommodation. Courts will look at whether the requested accommodation is reasonable and whether it would impose an undue hardship on the company.