Can you fire employee for threatening suicide?

What should you do if you learn one of your employees brandished a gun and threatened suicide, but a doctor released him back to work? Shouldn’t you be concerned about safety?  

The case: One day after work, a North Dakota bank executive got drunk and pulled out a gun to kill himself. The police came and took him to a hospital.

He was admitted for four days of psychiatric care and then sent home. His doctor signed certification saying the man could resume all work duties in a week.

Bank officials weren’t so sure. Citing “the impact of your action in the community,” HR placed him on leave and, shortly afterward, fired him.

The executive filed an ADA lawsuit, arguing that his doctor certified his fitness for work and yet the bank “perceived him as disabled.” He said his mental illness should have been accommodated.

The bank argued that the employee was a safety threat and his actions harmed its reputation.

How would you have ruled?

The verdict: The judge OK’d a jury trial, saying, “If an individual can show that an adverse employment decision was made by the employer because of a perception of a mental impairment—whether based on myth, fear or stereotype—the ‘regarded as’ prong of being defined as disabled under the ADA is generally satisfied.”

Instead of going to trial, the bank settled for an undisclosed sum.

The lesson: Don’t base your actions on your opinion about an employee’s medical condition. Physicians are trained medical experts and you must respect their certifications.