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Have clear conduct rules or risk ADA nightmare

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Firing,HR Management,Human Resources

A fight with a co-worker drove Manuella Dionisio Reed to tears. She was so upset that she had to leave work and ended up in the hospital for days.

Reed, who suffers from bipolar disorder and other problems, asked for an accommodation to be allowed to walk away when she felt herself losing control. The plant manager agreed and told a supervisor of the accommodation.

Months later, in a meeting with the supervisor and another manager, Reed wanted to talk about switching shifts. When the manager refused, Reed said "F--- this" and put her hand on the doorknob. The manager warned that if she walked out, she would not be allowed to work that day.

The conversation overheated, Reed went into a blind rage and was escorted out of the building. She went to the HR director, explained what happened, said she had a mental illness that caused her to explode and added that she had not been allowed to use her "walk away" accommodation. After their talk, she apologized to the manager. But a few days later, the HR director fired her for unacceptable, insubordinate and threatening behavior. Reed sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and a court allowed her case to go to a jury. (Reed v. Lepage Bakeries Inc., No. 98-450-P-H, D. Maine, 2000)

Advice: This company lost its bid for summary judgment partly because it didn't have a policy prohibiting abusive conduct such as Reed's.

You should include a list of basic rules of conduct, such as no fighting, no falsification of documents, no drinking on the job, in your employee handbook, and enforce the rules evenly. The benefit: You can legally hand out discipline (including firing) for violations of rules of conduct, even with employees who have psychological impairments.

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