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Ask HR: Did My Employer Violate the ADA?

SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here. 

I was terminated after I had a manic episode at work. My employer was well aware that I am bipolar I, and this was supported by my psychiatrist of 25 years. Do I have any recourse in fighting this termination? —Sebe

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: It takes strength and courage for you to disclose your medical condition. While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does protect employees from discriminatory employment actions based on disabilities, known or perceived, it does not completely shield employees from adverse employment action.

Employment is at-will in all states except Montana, which means an employer or employee can terminate the relationship at any time, with or without notice or reason, as long as the termination does not violate a law, such as anti-discrimination laws. Therefore, the reason for termination cannot be based on protected class status such as race, sex, color, age, religion, national origin, disability and genetic information.

On its face, you may have a legitimate case under the ADA, but it will depend on your prior work performance. Before you fight the termination, think about your job performance. Have you had any performance discussions or performance improvement plans? Did your employer document any misconduct or violation of policy or other work rules? If you had performance problems, your employer could be justified in its decision to end your employment.

Assuming there are no problems with your performance, your employer may have violated the law. Were you engaged by your employer in the ADA interactive process to determine if any reasonable accommodations were needed to support you? Do you know if other employees experienced similar workplace health crises but didn't have their employment terminated? You may want to look to your employer's policy regarding grievances or consider contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or speak with legal counsel regarding the circumstances.

One last thing to keep in mind: Even if you had an accommodation in place, your employer may still be able to take adverse actions against you if the accommodation presented is or becomes an undue hardship, or if you were deemed a direct threat to yourself or other employees.

I know this is sensitive matter, and I hope you can reach an amicable conclusion.

My company went to 100 percent remote work during the height of the pandemic. We have been back in office fully for a couple of months. I feel like I can get my work done from home or within an alternate schedule. What is the best way to approach my employer to request schedule flexibility (four-day workweek or remote work)? —Leanna

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: You are among a growing contingent of workers looking for work flexibility. Virtually every employer is facing this rising demand for remote work and alternative scheduling. It is important for workers to share their preferences with employers that are making critical workplace decisions. Employers are constantly trying to weigh business needs and workforce needs to find solutions that benefit both.

As you build your case for schedule flexibility, be sure to include how it will benefit business performance. Draw from your experiences during your remote-work period. Highlight how your work was positively impacted during that time. Point to some opportunities to improve remote-work experience and effectiveness. In preparation for speaking with your people manager, consider what type of flexibility you are seeking and why. Outline the benefits of the options you seek.

Your company may already be exploring flexible work options. In today's tight labor market, many employers are finding telework and flexible scheduling to be valuable incentives in attracting and retaining talent.

Your company's decision will come down to what makes sense for their business needs and workplace culture. Even if the answer is "no," you will have done the right thing in giving respectful and informative feedback to your employer. I hope you find the work arrangement that suits you best.


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