Afraid to discipline disabled employee? Just follow the rules

Sometimes, it may feel like everyone in HR is walking on eggshells, especially when it comes to disciplining employees who say they have disabilities. It doesn’t have to be that way—if you have a comprehensive employee handbook and consistently follow it.

As the following case shows, it’s not retaliation to enforce existing rules evenhandedly.

Recent case: Michael Caruso worked as a police officer for the Village of Kenmore. He was also morbidly obese and claimed that his employer wrongfully placed him on leave for failing to complete a training exercise.

He complained and sued, alleging the HR department retaliated against him by harassing him about rule violations. The first claim was that the department chastised him for not reporting that he and his wife were under investigation for alleged child abuse. In the second claim, Caruso complained about being questioned regarding outside employment he might have with a cab company.

But the police department showed the court its employee rules, which clearly stated that employees must report any outside agency investigations. The court also found no merit in Caruso’s claim that asking about outside employment was retaliation—the department, which had a “no moonlighting” rule in its handbook, testified it had received information from an outside source indicating Caruso might be driving a cab. The court dismissed both claims—and Caruso’s case. (Caruso v. Camilleri, et al., No. 04-CV-167A, WD NY, 2008)