Schizophrenic Associate

We have a schizophrenic associate who feels his life is in imminent danger when it is not. Most recently, he called 911 five times in one day and left before the police arrived. He feels that if a customer speaks to him that his life is being threatened. He feels that anyone that watches him must be an undercover FBI or CIA agent. He doesn't want to lose his job but feels if he shows up for work that "those people" will jump him and beat him up. Nothing we say helps calm him. If we write him up, he feels that we are part of the undercover people trying to bring him down and kill him. What do you recommend that we do? How does the ADA come into play in this situation?


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  • Assuming your company is covered either under ADA or a similar state law, ADA comes into play two possible ways. Firstly, if he is disabled, he may be entitled to reasonable accommodation to help him perform the essential duties of the job. How do you know he is schizophrenic? Has he told you that or has he asked for reasonable accommodation in the past and you have established that as the disability? Don't assume he is schizophrenic or has any disability unless it is OBVIOUS (such as no legs) or has disclosed it voluntarily or as part of a request for reasonable accommodation which has been documented. Otherwise, the employee should raise the disability claim (schizophrenia or any other medical or psycholgoical condition). Deal with only his performance including his on-the-job interaction with co-workers or clients, etc. This should not include his "nonsensical" statements about CIA,etc, unless he is making them to clients or the public and they reflect poorly on your company. Set expectations for the way he should act and see what he says.
    If he raises an issue of his having a mental illness or requests a reasonable accommodation to help him meet the essential demands of the job, then assess whether or not he meets the qualifying definition of disabled under ADA or similar state law. If he does, then determine what reasonable accommodation could be implemented that would allow him to perform the essential duties of the job. Even a disabled person is only qualified for under ADA if he or she can perform the essential duties of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.

    Changing policies, work space, procedures may be some accommodations. But in any case, you need and want him to meet the expectations that are set.

    If he doesn't raise any disability issue, then hold him accountable as you would any other employee.

    Document your efforts, including discussions and attempts at implementing reasonable accommodation if he is eligible. If he still continues to violate policy or act imappropriately or refuse to see clients, and you've made reasonable accommodation and they haven't been successful, you certainly are free to deal with him as you would any other employee.

    The second area where ADA may kick in is ability to perform the essential duties of the job competently without undue hazard to himself or others. If there is a reasonable linkage between poor performance and a medical (psychological) problem, you may be able to have him evaluated on his ability to perform the job without undue risk. That's a harder call to evaluate because you will probably need him to acknowledge a medical or psychological problem that is causing the poor performance or imminent threat issue on the job. This is where his nonsensical statements he utters may be useful. You should discuss the matter with a psychiatrist or psychologist who does employment psych evaluations. I include "threat", "hazard", or "risk" in this because, while it is not clear that he is an imminent threat to anyone, some of the statements you attribute to him border on the possibility he may become violent. But imminent threat means just that -- not the potential. I'm just making you aware of that.

  • If the employee has been officially diagnosed as being schizophrenic and if you
    are covered by the ADA (15 employees or more), then the employee probably has a
    disability covered by the ADA, and you have an obligation to reasonably
    accomodate him unless it casuses you an undue hardship. Based on what you say
    about him and his situation, providing an accomodation seems improbable but
    still should be considered. Have you talked with him about any idea he has on
    how his situation could be accomodated? Have you talked with a psychiatrist
    about an idea for an accomodation? One ADA principle that probably comes into
    play here is "direct threat." If an employee's disability poses a direct threat
    to his own health or safety or the health or safety of a third person and if
    there is no way to accomodate him, he loses his protection under the ADA.. In
    order to determine whether direct threat comes into play here, I think I would
    ask the employee to release his psychiatric records to you and give you
    permission to talk with his psychiatrist. If he has not been treated by a
    psychiatrist, I would request that he one you have selected. You should then be
    in a better position to evaluate the direct threat angle that seems to apply
    here, but you would need to get some legal advice on this before making a
    decision. If he refuses your requests and his conduct continues, I would
    suspend him until he has complied with your request. This is a fairly
    aggressive approach, and there is, of course, some risk in doing this, but you
    have rights too under the ADA, and I think you would be able to demonstrate that
    you are acting reasonably and trying to work with the employee in resolving this
    matter. You don't want to come across as "regarding" him as having a
    disability, but it seems to me that because of his objective bizarre behavior,
    you are not "regarding," you are reasonably responding to a situation that needs
    to be corrected for a business-related reason that relates to co-workers,
    customers or clients, and overal operations. Good luck.
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