An otherwise reliable employee’s behavior taking a turn for the erratic can disrupt the workplace and pose challenges for managers, particularly if it seems that the change may be tied to mental health problems.
Not only do such disruptions complicate the day-to-day challenge of keeping a business humming, but they may also indicate that an employee has a mental ailment that the employer is obligated to accommodate, leaving supervisors juggling the goal of a smoothly operating workplace with the need to do right by troubled employees.
Rutan & Tucker Labor and Employment Partner Maria Stearns tells Law360, “The ADA permits an employer to certainly have a conversation with an employee and say, ‘Hey, we’ve noticed that you’ve started to engage in this conduct, you’re acting erratically, you’re being aggressive with your co-workers. … Is there something going on that may be contributing to that behavior?’”
Beyond the ADA’s bar on discrimination against workers with a mental impairment, the law allows protected workers to request a “reasonable accommodation” that would let them continue working so long as it doesn’t pose an “undue hardship” on the employer. What constitutes “reasonable” and what constitutes “undue” will vary from situation to situation, so attorneys advise that employers approach the situation frankly. An employer need not grant whatever accommodation a worker requests, but it does have to try in earnest.
“Sometimes, the first accommodation that you come up with, you go, ‘Yeah, let’s try that,’ and it doesn’t turn out to work, you sit back down and you say, ‘Hey, let’s see if we can come up with something else,’” she said. “Where you have the employer and employee both engaged in this interactive process and a dialogue, kind of exploring this together, they usually arrive at a solution that works.”
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