Every workplace has had THAT employee. The hothead. Someone who loses their cool at the drop of hat. Yells, screams, and is prone to fits of rage.

It should go without saying that no one should be required to be subjected to this degree of misconduct. For this reason, you may (should?) decide to separate Hothead’s employment.

What happens, however, if Hothead delivers a doctor’s note advising you that he or she is being treated for “intermittent explosive disorder?”

Believe it or not, intermittent explosive disorder (IED), is a legit mental disorder, covered by the DSM-V (the psychiatric bible of mental disorders).

According to the Mayo Clinic, IED “involves repeated, sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior or angry verbal outbursts in which you react grossly out of proportion to the situation.” Outbursts can include temper tantrums, tirades, heated arguments, shouting, slapping, shoving or pushing, physical fights, property damage, or threatening or assaulting people. Not surprisingly, complications include job loss and other problems at work.

Which brings us back to Hothead and his doctor’s note. What do you do?

Thankfully, the ADA is not overly sympathetic to employees with IED, or other mental disorders, that cause misconduct.

The EEOC’s guidance on Applying Performance And Conduct Standards To Employees With Disabilities makes it clear that an employer may discipline an employee for violating a conduct rule even if the employee’s disability causes the violation, as long as the conduct rule is job-related and consistent with business necessity and other employees are held to the same standard.

Certain conduct rules will always meet this standard, such as prohibitions against

  • violence and threats of violence
  • destruction of property
  • insubordination towards supervisors and managers
  • disrespect towards clients and customers
  • inappropriate behavior between coworkers (yelling, cursing, shoving, or making obscene gestures, for example)
  • sending inappropriate or offensive emails or other electronic communications.

Courts (such as the 1st and 6th Circuits) have upheld the right of employers to hold accountable employees with mental disorders for their violations of workplace conduct standards.

There you have it. You don’t have to put up with an a-hole employee, even if that a-hole claims a disability caused their a-holeness.

This post originally appeared on the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, and was written by Jon Hyman, Partner, Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis. Jon can be reached at via email at jhyman@meyersroman.com, via telephone at 216-831-0042, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.


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