For many employers (particularly smaller employers who do not meet the eligibility requirements for state and federal leave protections), the issue of how to discipline employees who are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a common question. How can you effectively apply performance or conduct standards to your employees, while not violating ADA regulations?

An employee with a disability is still required to meet the same production and performance standards as a non-disabled employee in the same position. Altering production or performance standards because an employee cannot meet it due to a disability is not considered a reasonable accommodation.

Most positions require that employees perform the essential functions of their jobs, as outlined in their job descriptions. If an applicant or an employee cannot meet these requirements based on a disability, the ADA requires that employers demonstrate and clearly communication the importance of this standard as it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. With or without reasonable accommodation, an employee can be disciplined for violating performance and conduct standards. It is important to keep the following in mind with regards to disciplining an employee with a disability:

Discipline of an Employee for Violating a Performance or Conduct Standard

If the employee’s disability does not cause the misconduct, an employer may hold the employee to the same performance and conduct standards as they do to all other employees. In most situations, the employee’s disability will not be a relevant factor to conduct or performance violations.

Discipline of an Employee who’s Disability Causes a Conduct Rule Violation

The ADA does not protect employees from the consequences of violating conduct rules, even when such conduct is caused by the disability. Rights provided to the employer include:

  • The only requirement regarding discipline of an employee based on a disability-caused conduct violation is that it is consistent with business necessity
  • Conduct standards that cover all jobs within an organization may include: violence, threats of violence, theft, destruction of property, etc.
  • Employers may prohibit insubordination or other forms of inappropriate behavior (such as inappropriate behavior towards coworkers, sending offensive emails, illegal use of alcohol in the workplace, etc.) as a conduct standard

The EEOC is a fantastic resource, providing situationally-based tips on how to discipline employee performance and conduct. Every scenario is different and it is important make certain that you are maintaining compliance when working with an employee with a disability, particularly during situations of discipline or performance improvement.