Is it possible that supervisors can get into legal trouble by caring too much about their direct reports? Here’s an example that suggests it is:

Bill reports to Mary. He’s been a half-hour late for work twice in the past two weeks. Mary calls him into her office and tells asks him what’s going on. Bill reacts very badly, implying that it’s inappropriate for Mary to single him out over two minor incidents.

Now, if that’s all the information you had about this scenario, you’d say Mary’s actions were appropriate. People are supposed to be on time. If they’re late even once, a supervisor shouldn’t hesitate to mention it. But there’s more to this story. Bill is a recovering alcoholic. Mary knows all about drug and alcohol abuse because she has recovering substance abusers just like Bill in her family. She really wants Bill to succeed. She’s made Bill her special project. That’s how much she cares.

Turns out her actions almost certainly violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As a recovering alcoholic, Bill is protected by the ADA. That means that as long as he doesn’t drink on the job, he has to be treated EXACTLY like any other employee.

But Mary singled him out. Other employees who showed up just as late didn’t get called into Mary’s office.

And it turns out Bill was late because he’d switched a particular medication that made him groggy. It had nothing to do with his former alcohol problem. So Mary’s intentions were good. But they could get her company into big-time legal trouble.

To avoid ADA claims, follow this simple rule: Treat everyone the same.

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