Personality Conflict With the Boss Isn’t a ‘Disability’

Employees who claim an ADA-protected disability will have to cite more than a simple personality clash with their boss. Such conflicts won’t win an ADA lawsuit even if working with a particular supervisor makes the employee anxious, depressed and angry.

So, what’s the best way to handle a personality clash? Set a policy—and remind employees—that everyone must be treated with dignity and respect. Then, hand out discipline evenly.

Recent case: Phillip Fricke was a DuPont engineer for two decades before he had trouble with a new female supervisor. She told Fricke to work on his interpersonal skills, prompting him to claim she “emotionally raped” him.

After a second meeting, Fricke became so upset that two HR employees had to escort him off the premises. A psychiatrist examined Fricke, and concluded he couldn’t return without becoming agitated, depressed and anxious.

After DuPont allowed him to retire, Fricke sued. He alleged the company violated the ADA by not allowing him back despite his psychological problems. The court threw out his case, reasoning that “personality conflicts, workplace stress and being unable to work with a particular person” don’t add up to a disability. (Fricke v. E.I. DuPont Co., No. 05-6521, 6th Cir., 2007)

Final tip: Even though you needn’t tolerate disruptive employees (even if they’re officially disabled), be aware that some developmental disabilities do often qualify for reasonable accommodations. For example, people with a form of autism have trouble communicating at work. But, unlike this case, employees afflicted with this autism condition will have trouble communicating with all supervisors, not just one.