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OK to terminate employee who is psychologically unfit to perform stressful job

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

When stress is a built-in part of the job, it stands to reason that sound mental health is a prerequisite. Someone whose psychological disorder interferes with the ability to perform such a job isn’t qualified and can be terminated.

Recent case: Keith Stouch worked as a police officer, but always seemed to have a gripe with his superiors. He frequently ignored the dress code, challenged his bosses and generally didn’t get along with others.

Then he claimed to have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a disagreement with a fellow officer. The department let him take leave.

After he was cleared to return to work, the department arranged a fitness-for-duty exam. The examiner concluded that Stouch wasn’t suffering from PTSD. Rather, he had a personality disorder with “paranoid and narcissistic traits that interfere with his ability to work cooperatively within the rules of his department.”

Stouch sued when he was terminated as unfit to serve.

The court dismissed his case. It reasoned that the police department had legitimate grounds for terminating Stouch: His personality disorder made him unfit to be a police officer. (Stouch v. Irvington, No. 08-3264, 3rd Cir., 2009)

Final note: Stouch didn’t argue that his employer regarded him as disabled, or that he could have been accommodated. Remember, in a less-sensitive position, personality disorders may require reasonable accommodation. Each disability and each disabled individual must be assessed on an individual basis.

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