September 21st, 2013

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Autistic Man Bullied at Work

Dear Kalola,

Ok, I need advice.

My son is a young autistic man and has been employed in a private club in Birmingham, AL. When he began employment 4 years ago, the club agreed to communicate with his job coach about his performance. During the last 2 years, he has complained of workplace bullying, being yelled at, and ridiculed in front of other employees. He has been sent home and written up.

The club has refused comment regarding our attempts to communicate and will not return phone calls and emails to either his job coach or myself.

He was fired last week.  As this is a private club he is not protected by the ADA, which may explain why they refuse to deal with his job coach.

Alabama has no law to prevent this type of behavior and a cause of action would be difficult to prove, because of the difficulty of getting a current employee to testify.

Any advice?


Dear Judy,

Thank you for writing in to "Let's Talk".  The anti-bullying Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) does not give legal advice.  If you are looking for legal advice, WBI does give suggestions on how to find an attorney.

What is at-will employment?  In the United States, all states with the exception of the state of Montana, employment is presumed to be at-will.  A worker can be dismissed for good cause, bad cause, or for no reason at all as long as the reason is not an illegal one.  Some examples of exceptions to the rule:  An implied contract, a written contract, a union contract with the employer.  However, a worker can be terminated for good cause such as employee misconduct or laid off for economic reasons by the employer (that is, the employer could be having financial difficulty maintaining the business).  A worker, generally, cannot be terminated for reporting a violation of public policy or a state law; joining the state national guard; participating in jury duty; or for filing a workers' compensation claim.  The employer cannot illegally discriminate.  Read an overview of at-will employment and the exceptions at the National Conference of State Legislators' website

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  However, not all employers are covered by these laws depending on the number of employees.  "This number varies depending on the type of employer (for example, whether the employer is a private company, a state or local govt. agency, a federal agency, an employment agency or a labor union), and the kind of discrimination alleged (for example, discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information)."

For Private Employers, the EEOC states the following:  "If you have a complaint against a business (or some other private employer) that involves race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, the business is covered by the laws that we enforce IF it has 15 or more employees who worked for the employer for at least twenty (20) calendar weeks (in this year or last)."  For more information, go to the EEOC website or call the EEOC and speak to a representative at 1-800-669-4000.

You can also contact the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division for information on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by calling 1-800-514-0301. For information on how to file a complaint:

Workplace bullying is not against the law in any state in the United States as of this writing.  To read about the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill Campaign or to volunteer, go to the website

For disability resources, employment, etc., check out the following websites:

  1. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM),
  2. Disability.gov
  3. Employer Assistance and Resource Network (EARN):  Resources to Help Jobseekers With Disabilities Find Employment,
  4. Ability Jobs,
  5. Pacer Center—Information for parents of children and young adults with disabilities,
  6. National Autism Resource and Information Center—Autism Now,

For our readers interested in learning about job coaches for the disabled, go to "America's Heroes at Work" website or Ask EARN (Employer Assistance and Resource Network)

It was maybe 4-5 years ago, a recycling service who employed developmentally-disabled adults was picking up my employer's recycling.  I was walking back to the office and encountered a man who was screaming at the top of his lungs at one worker.  The worker was cowering as the man screamed at him.  The screaming was so loud that it was difficult to understand what the man was saying.  The man then saw me and screamed at me, "they don't listen!"  I felt that if I hadn't been there, that man might have hit the worker.  I reported to a woman who was also supervising the group, and she gave me a telephone number so that I could complain about the man.  And, yes, I did make the call.

In college, I took a psychology class called "Personality and Emotional Problems of Children."  Of all my undergraduate courses, this was one of the most interesting and I had a great teacher.  My teacher talked so fast that she told us that it would be okay to record her lectures.  I still have those recordings.  Required reading included a series of books about an autistic child named Noah written by his father, Josh Greenfeld.  Noah's brother, Karl Taro Greenfeld, has written a book about his brother who is now an adult.  There are many other books written by parents of autistic children for anyone to read who is interested in learning about autism from a parent's viewpoint.

I'm not sure that I've given the help that you were seeking.  I know it isn't easy trying to help your son as he goes forward in life as you live a distance apart from him.  Let him know that you are always as close as the telephone.  Sometimes, we can only listen and let our children know how much we care.  As a parent, one of our jobs is to prepare our children for the time that they do walk out the door and they are on their own knowing full well that there will come a day that we won't be there except in spirit.  Being a parent is one of the toughest and yet most rewarding jobs that a person can ever have.





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