Gravity Diagnostics (”GD”) would answer nay given that a Kentucky jury awarded an employee (that worked there for about 10 months) a $450,000 compensation after GD celebrated the employee’s birthday party at work.
The employee suffered from an anxiety disorder and feared that he would suffer a panic attack from all the attention on his birthday. He asked his boss not to celebrate the same because he associated his birthday with bad memories, but his boss forgot to cancel and SURPRISE: the employee had a 45-minute panic attack.
The employee tried to explain the situation to GD but was fired allegedly for his behavior after his birthday celebration. The employee sued claiming GD had discriminated against him because of a disability, ignored his request for a reasonable accommodation and fired him for objecting when they failed to provide that accommodation. The jury sided with the employee and awarded him $300,000 for emotional distress and $150,000 for lost wages.
Not having a birthday celebration would literally have no effect on the employer. But, because a supervisor ignored the employee’s request, GD had to provide a six-figure compensation to a former employee that worked with the company for less than a year.
An article published on May 2, 2022, by the Society for Human Resources Management (“SHRM”) listed the top 10 reasons of why employees sue their employers. Guess what the number one reason was: “My boss doesn’t listen”.
Employers should be more aware of their employee’s independent needs and requests and try to accommodate the ones that are reasonable (no matter how insignificant they may seem); specially, if the employee explicitly requests or declines a trivial event such as a birthday celebration.
Situations like this could be avoided if employers provide their supervisors with consistent training and tools that help them recognize and prepare for sensitive situations like this one.
The Employment and Benefits practice area at SMC is committed in helping clients and has the necessary personnel to provide in depth training that may reduce potential liability exposure or prevent litigation. Feel free to contact us at your convenience at (787) 765-5656.