Court: Interventions with potentially violent worker didn’t cross legal line

by on August 26, 2013 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Here’s a conundrum: You have an emotionally unstable employee who claims a disability but also seems to present a threat of violence.

Do you ignore the disability and deal with the potential threat, at the risk of committing disability discrimination? Or do you ignore the threat in order to stay on the right side of disability law?

That’d be a really tough choice. Luckily, though, a federal court has made it easier to know what to do.

A slide into depression
The case in court involved a worker at a factory in Ohio. After his son died, he slid into severe depression.

One day a supervisor didn’t see the worker at his machine and asked a co-worker where he was. The worker was upset at this, and when a few days later he saw the supervisor in the street, he confronted him and, according to the supervisor, offered to fight him.

At a meeting to discuss the incident, the worker had an emotional crisis and was sent home. A few months later, he wrote on a daily report: “May God help ALL of Us. The Day will come for all of US. Some sooner Than others.”

A perceived threat
The plant manager saw this as a threat and wanted to get rid of the worker. But when a second supervisor intervened, the worker was given five months of paid leave to address his issues. After his return, he had a confrontation with this latter supervisor, and filed criminal charges. The supervisor was acquitted and the worker never returned to work.

The worker later sued, claiming discrimination due to his disability. The worker cited several incidents, including times when one of the supervisors told the worker’s wife the company was afraid he would hurt people, asked about his medication, and said he had to get help to keep his job.

The court threw the lawsuit out. These incidents reflected only a concern about the worker’s mental state that was understandable, given what he’d written on his report.

Takeaway: Disability law doesn’t stop you from dealing appropriately with an employee whose behavior makes you fear potential violence.

Cite: Tuttle v. Oehler, No.1:08CV288, N.D. Ohio, 3/31/11.

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