One of the more interesting cases I have come across lately involves an employee who claimed a disability due to the stress she experienced working for her supervisor and having to deal with Human Resources. The accommodation she was seeking was first an extended medical leave and then permanent reassignment to a different department. The answer was ultimately “No.”
The claimed disability
The employee apparently did not like working for her boss, who had enlisted HR to help deal with, what I am guessing, were performance issues. It sounds like having her boss point out her short comings as an employee was causing her stress. She got a doctor to diagnose her “with having adjustment disorder with anxiety, as a result of ‘dealing with her Human Resources and her manager.’” Her employer, to their credit granted her some time off as she requested, however, they did not transfer her. After exhausting the time off she came back and after being back for a month she had another encounter with her boss and HR (my guess is that her performance had not improved) and this encounter cause her to have a “panic attack.” She left work and never returned.
She then filed for disability and additional leave. She got her doctor to say “that if she was transferred to a different supervisor, she would be able to function without limitations.” The employer granted the leave, but after an extended time the employee did not return. Her employer informed her that her doctor had not explained when she would be able to return and had not explained how a leave would enable her to function better and if she did not provide those statements she would be terminated. As you might guess she did not provide these and she was terminated. Also as you might guess, she sued.
The employee “sued for claims including disability discrimination, failure to engage in the interactive process, and failure to provide reasonable accommodation.” Fortunately the court did not agree with her. They said “that inability to work under a particular supervisor because of the anxiety and stress related to the supervisor’s oversight does not rise to the level of a disability.” It is nice to see a court exercise some good sense.
The company also exercised some good sense. They did have discussions with the employee. They did provide some time off for her to “recover.” They also held their ground, since I am guessing that the employee’s performance was the issue that caused her the stress. Employers are not required to have poor performing employees on their payroll if they have made efforts to consider reasonable accommodations.
By the way, this was a California court that decided this, thus it has limited applicability but does act as a good example for other courts to follow if ever presented with such a case. Who knows, there are a lot of employees being stressed by their supervisors over their performance.
Thanks to attorney Jessica Linehan of Dorsey & Whitney, LLP for the inspiration.