ADA discrimination or fair performance evaluation?
Most managers want to treat disabled workers fairly and wouldn’t intentionally discriminate against them. But disabilities can create some tricky challenges for managers.

Imagine this scenario:
An employee on your team has always been rock solid. But in the past six months her performance has tailed off. Today, in a review you give her “below average” ratings, a big contrast to the “above average” and “outstanding” ratings she used to get.

At the end of the review she says, “I’ve been hesitant to mention this, but I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes muscle pain and fatigue. It’s the reason my performance has declined.”

Well, that sort of complicates things, doesn’t it?

Your instinct might be to go back and take some sting out of the performance review. That might seem humane, and you might think it would be a smart legal move.

Was is a fair rating or ADA disability discrimination
But in fact it’s not the right thing to do. Your review was honest and accurately reflected the employee’s performance. The ADA does not excuse performance deficiencies, so you never have to sugarcoat performance feedback with disabled workers. If they want to keep their jobs, they must be able to perform their essential job duties, with or without accommodation.

But—and this is important—once you become aware that a person has a disability, you need to engage in what the lawyers call an “interactive process.” That’s a fancy way of saying that you have to talk to the person and see if there’s a way to come up with a “reasonable accommodation” that would allow the person to perform the job effectively.

With fibromyalgia, perhaps some workstation adjustments or a shift change could help the employee perform at acceptable levels. Or perhaps they wouldn’t. Either way, you as a manager do the right thing when you work with an employee to find a solution.

photo credit: alancleaver_2000

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