Last week following a trial in a Kentucky state court, a jury awarded a terminated employee $450,000 based upon his termination following an unwanted office birthday party. The plaintiff alleged that he suffers from anxiety and panic disorders and that the employer threw him the party despite his request that it not be held. He refused to attend the party, and during a follow-up meeting with his supervisors, the employer said he exhibited aggressive and threatening behaviors.
The jury disagreed, awarding the plaintiff $150,000 in lost wages and $300,000 for pain and suffering damages. The judge has not yet approved the verdict, and it is likely to be appealed by the employer. Regardless, this case is a good example of how employee psychological disabilities can result in serious legal claims against their companies. Diagnoses of anxiety disorders continue to increase throughout the U.S. These conditions sometimes manifest themselves in panic attacks or behaviors that employers view as uncomfortable or alienating.
Regardless, the Americans with Disabilities Act and related state disability discrimination laws require employers to accommodate employees’ mental disabilities. If an employee begs off of social events not essential to their job performance, the employer should excuse them from participation and not disclose the reasons for their decisions to co-workers.