This company’s decision to fire a potentially disabled worker may have been a bad call.  

Kimberly Spurling had worked for C&M Fine Pack for five years when she “began to exhibit a pattern of decreased consciousness and alertness,” for which she received several disciplinary warnings.

What did that look like? One day, she left her work site to use the restroom and didn’t return for over 20 minutes. Spurling was later found sleeping in the bathroom.

Spurling was suspended. When she returned, she met with management to explain that her sleep issues were caused by medication that her doctor had prescribed. She produced a note to the same effect.

She was given info on the ADA

Spurling’s issues continued, and a shift supervisor later found her completely asleep on several occasions during a single shift.

The company suspended her again and told her a termination decision would be made within several days. The next day, Spurling informed HR that her performance issues might be related to a medical condition. HR provided her with a letter regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and documentation for Spurling’s physician to complete. That same day, HR recommended firing Spurling. 

Spurling had her doctor fill out the paperwork and returned it. That’s as far as the interactive process got, however — she was fired several days later.

Should they have taken more action?

Spurling filed suit, claiming the company violated the ADA in firing her.

The court sided with Spurling. The company had info about Spurling’s disability before her final termination. By failing to engage in the interactive process, the company may have violated the ADA, said the court. Now the case has been remanded for consideration.

Steven J. Teplinsky of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP had the following takeaway for HR:

The case further reminds us of an employer’s obligation to engage in a meaningful interactive process and not ignore the medical information provided. In Spurling, the litigation might have been avoided by simply giving Spurling a leave of absence, before any termination decision, for the additional medical tests and to explore different prescribed medications to control her narcolepsy.

The case is Spurling v. C&M Fine Pack, Inc.

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