Ability to Comply with Company Policies May be an Essential Function of a Job

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an employee’s challenge to lower court rulings that found that the employee’s termination did not violate the ADA. The employee was terminated from his job as a financial advisor after he removed the hard drive from his work computer (which contained confidential information) and took it to a friend’s house.  The employer had multiple written policies addressing the treatment and protection of confidential/proprietary information, and expressly prohibited removal of confidential information from the employer’s premises.  After the employee was terminated, he alleged that he took the computer while he was “in the midst of a psychotic episode” which was a manifestation of bipolar disorder, and that his termination violated the ADA.

The District Court found that there was no evidence that the employee ever told his employer he was bipolar or asked for any accommodation. The Court also found that even if the employee had a disability (and the employer was aware of the disability), the employee was not qualified to perform the essential functions of the job – since one of those functions was to maintain protect the employer’s highly sensitive and proprietary information.  The Court found that the employer’s security policies were an integral part of its business and that the employee’s failure to follow the policies rendered him unable to meet the essential requirements of his job (with or without a reasonable accommodation).

It is unclear how a court in the Ninth Circuit would address this issue. It is clear, however, that in certain circumstances, employees, whether or not they are disabled, can be required to comply with employer rules and policies, provided such policies are integral to the employer’s operations.

The citation to the District Court decision is Foley v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, et al., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28873 (S.D. Fla. 2011).

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