Posts Tagged ‘sara fagnilli’

Anger management issues in the workplace

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

By Sara Fagnilli, Crain’s Cleveland Business, Nov. 21, 2012

It’s a subject made for the movies! But, unlike its depiction in the 2003 film, Anger Management, treatment for anger management issues is very serious business. Haven’t we all been in a work situation where someone loses their temper? Know the employee with a reputation as the “office screamer?” Sometimes it can even be a boss!

While some people may be prone to outbursts of emotion at work, are these incidents simply a reflection of human nature or are they, perhaps, something more serious that an employer must address? Believe it or not, an employee with significant anger issues may be protected by various laws, if that anger is caused by or related to a medical condition.

As is the case with most employment-related disciplinary matters, the answer to the question of how to manage an employee with anger issues is – carefully. Each individual situation requires analysis to assess the issues involved and to determine how an employer should proceed. Are you dealing with the “office bully,” with an employee who consistently loses his or her temper with other employees, customers or clients, or with someone who just has a poor daily demeanor that manifests itself in regular outbursts, perhaps directed at no one in particular? In short, is this just an office bully or someone who has a mental impairment?

Workplace bullying, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, is “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons …one or more perpetrators…in the form of verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating or work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done.” Obviously, this definition covers someone who simply behaves badly in the workplace, but it also may describe the actions of an employee with a more serious, underlying behavioral problem. Employers may not, however, play psychologist/psychiatrist in attempting to assess an individual’s actions. Therein lies the challenge for the employer, as it must make an effort to determine the best, most appropriate way to handle such behavioral issues without placing a “label” upon the employee.

If the incident is one for which discipline is appropriate, a part of that discipline could presumably involve the requirement that the employee get counseling – seems simple and straightforward, right? Maybe not.

Requiring an employee with anger problems to get counseling could trigger certain issues and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). Requiring an employee to obtain counseling could be found to be equivalent to requiring a medical exam. In order for an employer to avoid a violation of the ADAAA, it must demonstrate that such an exam (or counseling) is job-related and that it is a business necessity.

So what do you do with the “office screamer” – the person who doesn’t necessarily become involved in a confrontation with a co-worker or third party, but who has an unpleasant office demeanor that might not otherwise be subject to discipline? While that type of behavior could certainly lead to disciplinary action, a wise employer will want to derail that behavior before it escalates into a disciplinary event. It is possible for an employer – without running afoul of ADAAA regulations – to require that an employee attend a group anger management class. This type of group training can assist the employee in managing his or her interactions in the workplace, without necessarily implying that the employee has a mental impairment.

Anger is a significant workplace and societal issue, and there are professionals who deal specifically with anger management. The basic question, of course, centers around a determination of the source of one’s anger which, in today’s world, can stem from outside forces that ultimately manifest themselves within the workplace. While the majority of employees will not want their personal issues to impact their job situation, some people are unable to prevent that anger from manifesting itself at work. This situation is much more difficult to deal with from an employer’s standpoint. While an employer should be reluctant to delve into an employee’s personal situation, anger left unchecked can have drastic consequences in the workplace. This is an area where an employer would be well advised to proceed with caution and to consult with legal counsel early in the process in order to avoid ending up on the wrong end of an EEOC charge.


Sara J. Fagnilli is an attorney with Walter & Haverfield LLP in Cleveland. She is a member of the firm’s labor and employment, municipal law, public law and litigation practice groups.


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