I recently answered this hotline question:
Question: Can an employer request/require an employee to seek counseling/therapy for anger management issues that affect their ability to perform their job?
Answer: Absolutely! In general, the ADA does not cover personality traits such as irritability, poor anger management, impulsivity, and poor judgment. What’s more, short-term conditions, such as the anger that many people experience from the actions of a co-worker, are not qualifying disabilities. As you might guess, employees have argued that their anger is related to a disability. The question then becomes can you, or should you, have to accommodate it! If, in fact, anger is related to a disability such as PTSD (http://askjan.org/corner/vol03iss02.htm), an amputation or other severe injury, or a symptom of many other disabilities (http://askjan.org/media/atoz.htm), the question still remains of whether you can accommodate it.
The science is not always clear on whether anger is a covered disability (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1468908). The answer varies on a case by case basis (everyone loves that answer). I would begin with a referral to your EAP provider, if you have one. You might also consider counseling and coaching.
Also, remember that an employer has an obligation to create a safe workplace and can use a “direct threat” defense under the ADA. As one court stated: “Such a requirement would place the employer on a razor’s edge – in jeopardy of violating the Act if it fired such an employee, yet in jeopardy of being deemed negligent if it retained him and he hurt someone.”
According to the ADA when considering the risk of harm:
“People with mental disabilities cannot be excluded based on general, stereotypical assumptions about dangerousness. Any threat must be based on sound medical judgment and objective evidence of factors, such as the duration of the risk, the nature and severity of the potential harm, the likelihood that harm will occur, and the imminence of the harm. Of course a person with a disability must be able to perform the essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodations in order to be covered by the ADA.”
To learn more about accommodating anger issues, go to JAN. Also watch our recent Webinar on Accommodating Mental Disabilities.
As a final note, be sure to take mental disabilities seriously. A California jury recently granted a $21 million dollar verdict because an employer fired an employee who claimed that she had anxiety attacks, without making any effort to accommodate her. Don’t be that employer!