ADA not protecting my rights??

I have a co-worker who is bi-polar. We used to get along fairly well and she confided in me about her condition, which of course, I kept silent about.

Last year, she felt the urge to notify all the supervisors in our office and they understood the situation. She was then out of the office for 6 weeks seeking treatment at an institution.

While she was out, my duties increased two fold as I took on her responsibilities as well as my own, with the understanding from my supervisors that it would be this way until she was able to take on her previous duties. I had no problem with this.

However, once she returned, all she wanted to do was talk to me about the institution and her treatments and friends she made. Normally, this would not be a problem, but I was now doing two peoples jobs and I told her I was very busy. We talked a little bit on our breaks and she seemed fine with that.

One day, she wanted me to go out on my break with her and I absolutely could not as I had previous plans. After, literally, ten minutes of whining, I told her I'm sorry, but I just can't.

When I came back, I had a very nasty e-mail from her stating that I was trying to avoid her and threatening me if I told anyone about her condition. I forwarded this e-mail to my supervisor.

She was sent up to HR to discuss this and received an oral warning. However, anyone I am remotely friendly with in the office she has been accusing of talking about her, she has interrupted a meeting a meeting between myself and my supervisor accusing us of talking about her, etc. Also, she has complained that it bothers her when I walk by her desk and she mumbles under her breath when she comes past mine.

Last week, she had an argument with my supervisor and two co-workers. From what I am hearing, she has a condition and I should deal with the harrassment and deal with her accusing me of telling everyone her condition. Several people who have had arguments with her have asked me if I knew what was wrong with her and all I've been able to say is, "She's mad at me."

I really feel that my rights to not be harrassed or slandered (she complains to my supervisor that I've told people I don't ever speak to about her condition). I just received my master's degree and am hoping to move up in the my institution and I now feel that with all her complaints to my supervisor and HR, she is making me look bad.

She has been told about FMLA, but she only takes an hour or two at a time.

Is there anything I can do? I thought the ADA existed to make sure that people who can do their job aren't fired because of their condition, however, harrassing co-workers I thought was exempt. Is my job looking out for my best interests or simply doing what is easy?

1 answer  |  asked Aug 25, 2003 12:32 PM [EST]  |  applies to New York

Answers (1)

David M. Lira
Bi-Polar Co-Worker

If you wish to the situation you are in harassment, ok. But you have to understand that workplace harassment is not illegal. Only certain forms of harassment are illegal. Those forms of harassment that are illegal become illegal because the conduct is motivated by the membership of the victim in a class of people specifically protected by law. Thus, harassment of a person with a disability is illegal if it is undertaken because that person has a disability. Harassment of a woman becomes illegal is it is undertaken because that person is a woman. But the case of a person causing you trouble because that person is angry with you for a real or perceived offense would not be illegal. At least, it is not something that your employer would be responsible for.

The situation you describe to me is another example of employers handling workplace situations badly, probably because they have been fed a lot of misinformation for years from management attorneys. But, as far as the law is concerned, there is nothing wrong with employers handling workplace situations badly.

The Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect people in general from situations involving people with disabilities. That is, you have no rights under the ADA. Interesting, I have doubts whether your co-worker is protected by the ADA, although she would almost certainly be protected by the New York State Human RIghts Law and the New York City Human Rights Law.

posted by David M. Lira  |  Aug 25, 2003 4:28 PM [EST]

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