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Aug 21, 2014

By Eric B. Meyer

File this under: Duh!

Let’s assume that you have an employee who commits a terminable offense. For example, in Martins v. Rhode Island Hospital, surveillance cameras and the Hospital’s employee ID swipe system suggested that Martins left work for approximately four hours and, later, he could not account for his whereabouts.

So, you schedule a termination meeting, which is exactly what the Hospital did with Martins. However, at the meeting, Martins told the Hospital that he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Was this discrimination?

Based on the these facts, if the Hospital fires Martins does it engage in disability discrimination?

No way! School ’em United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island:

Martins only informed Fanning and Badessa of his bipolar disorder at the meeting immediately prior to his termination, undermining any claim that discriminatory animus led to his firing. [Plus], Martins’ concession that Fanning and Badessa did not believe his explanation that a disability played any role in his disappearance from work.”

It’s axiomatic (that’s fancy legal speak for “unquestionable”) that when you make an employment decision without knowing someone’s protected class (such as a disability), you’re not discriminating based on the protected class.

What employers should do

That said, you are playing with fire by not affording avenues for your employees to discuss their disabilities and seek reasonable workplace accommodations.

So, grab your employee handbook and make sure it includes a section on reasonable accommodations. And include this in your training of both employees and supervisors (the ones who generally field the requests).

This was originally published on Eric B. Meyer’s blog, The Employer Handbook.