Some workers think that anytime their employer criticizes an emotional state or suggests therapy, the employer is “regarding” them as disabled. Thus, goes the argument, the employer violates the ADA when it tries to intervene.
Fortunately, that’s often not the case—especially in sensitive jobs that require emotional balance like teaching, counseling, prison services and police work.
Recent case: Alan worked as a police officer and typically received somewhat favorable reviews that included criticisms of his work performance. In early 2012, however, he had marital problems and his work suffered. Then the police department received a complaint from someone who alleged Alan had used police intelligence to track down his address. Alan allegedly showed up at the man’s door looking for his wife.
Alan received a short suspension for violating rules against accessing police information for personal reasons. He soon found himself instructed to undergo angertreatment and began to see a counselor. Then he was criticized for leaving his gun unattended.
Over the next few months, his run-ins with management continued. For example, he refused to provide the police department with reports from his therapist showing how he was progressing.
He was then terminated, informed that, “Your employment record contains reasons for discipline for not following directives, for uncontrolled anger and for disrespect of supervisors.” The termination letter also noted that the department was unable to assess his fitness for duty because he wasn’t cooperating.
Alan sued, alleging among other claims that he had been treated as if he were disabled and needed counseling for mental problems. The court tossed out the ADA claim, reasoning that an employer doesn’t regard someone as disabled just because it considers the employee to have an anger management problem. (Watt v. City of Crystal, et al., No. 14-CV-3167, DC MN, 2015)