On occasion, employers faced with an employee's violation of rules of conduct are informed that the conduct arose as the result of a mental condition allegedly rising to the level of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In general, a medical basis for misconduct does not excuse the behavior, or legally require the employer to ignore its consequences.
This principle is illustrated in a new unpublished decision from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In McKane v. UBS Fin. Servs., Inc., the plaintiff was a UBS employee terminated for verbally abusing his co-workers. He alleged that his behavior was the result of a psychiatric disorder, and could have been accommodated by moving his office to a remote location where he would not have to regularly interact with co-workers.
The Eleventh Circuit quickly rejected this argument, holding that the requested move would have removed rather than allowed his interactions with fellow employees. Peaceable relations with co-workers was an essential function of his job, and UBS was not required to eliminate this function by removing the plaintiff from contact with other people.
The court also rejected the plaintiff's contention that UBS had violated the ADA because it failed to engage in an interactive process to see if his disability could be accommodated. The Eleventh Circuit noted that failure to engage in this process in and of itself does not violate the ADA. In the absence of evidence of some available reasonable accommodation, the plaintiff cannot argue that his employer failed to meet its legal burden.
Employers faced with serious incidents of employee misconduct can discipline or discharge employees consistent with policies and past practices, even where an underlying mental condition causes or contributes to the behavior. If the employee continues employment after disclosing such condition, the employer may be required to provide accommodations. However, those accommodations need not include fundamental changes to the nature of the job.