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Handle disabled worker’s poor performance like any other

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Employees who have disabilities sometimes pose special challenges. Accommodating their work restrictions requires diligence and flexibility.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should ignore declining performance. Instead, hold disabled employees to normal performance standards, modified only by the accommodations you have made.

Recent case: Monica Buboltz is legally blind and worked for a company that provides residential services to disabled people who cannot live alone without supervision. When the company hired her, it waived one of the essential functions of the job—driving—with the understanding that Buboltz’s poor vision prevented her from operating a car.

All went well for a few years until a supervisor observed some problems she believed were caused by Buboltz’s poor vision. For example, Buboltz had trouble seeing whether a resident may have urinated on her bedclothes and checked by touching the resident’s groin area. Concerned that this might be seen as possible abuse, the supervisor required another person to work alongside Buboltz. Coincidentally, the company also began requiring Buboltz to work weekends—something she never had to do before.

Shortly after, the company evaluated Buboltz’s job performance for the first time in her five years of employment. Buboltz quit and sued for disability discrimination.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the case after considering the company’s argument that it had legitimate reasons to begin questioning Buboltz’s work. The company also argued Buboltz had to work weekends because everyone else did. The court agreed. (Buboltz v. Residential Advantage, No. 07-2065, 8th Cir., 2008) 

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