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Focus on behavior when disciplining jerks

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Some employees behave in ways that create an unpleasant environment for their co-workers, subordinates or supervisors. There’s no reason to put up with bullies and other ill-behaved employees.

Concentrate on the behavior and don’t worry that they may claim that an underlying disability is the reason for the behavior. That won’t be an excuse in most cases. Behavior may interfere with their ability to get along with others, but that doesn’t mean the employee will be considered disabled under the ADA.

Recent case: As a child, Matthew was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but believed he had outgrown the disability. He took a job as a police officer.

It turned out that Matthew didn’t get along very well with others; he was described as abrasive and generally unpleasant. He was placed on leave after a co-worker complained about Matthew’s behavior. While out on leave, he concluded that perhaps his ADHD was a factor in his ability to get along with others.

He requested reasonable accommodations, including reinstatement. The police department denied Mat­­thew’s request, and eventually he was discharged.

Matthew sued and a jury con­­cluded he was disabled and en­­titled to accommodations. They awarded him over $400,000 in damages. The police department appealed.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the jury verdict, concluding Matthew wasn’t disabled. While his condition may have made his interpersonal relationships difficult, that wasn’t enough to substantially limit his ability to interact with others. Rul­­­­ing ­otherwise, the court concluded, “would be to expose to potential ADA liability employers who take adverse employment actions against ill-tempered em­­ployees who create a hostile workplace environment for their colleagues.” (Weaving v. City of Hillsboro, No. 12-35726, 9th Cir., 2014)

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