Monday, March 24, 2008

Dealing with Internet addiction under the ADA

internet addiction Last week, I asked whether the ADA affored protection to Internet addicts. I concluded that the ADA would not protect an employee who spends all hours of the workday surfing the Web for non-work reasons:

Rest assured, though, that even if the DSM recognizes Internet or email addiction as a bona fide mental disorder, employers should still be able reasonably to regulate use at work without running afoul of the ADA. Just as the ADA does not entitle an employee who claims sex addiction to sexually harass co-workers, the ADA is almost certainly not going to permit an Internet addict not to perform his or her job.

Donna Seale at Human Rights in the Workplace, a blog on Canadian employment law issues, suggests that under Canadian discrimination laws, the result might be different:

While I agree with the premise that employers have a legitimate interest in ensuring employees remain productive and do not misuse company technology, the pendulum in Canada in relation to the accommodation of disability in the workplace has clearly swung in the direction of employees. As a result, I'm not so certain that Canadian employers who attempt to take a strictly black and white approach to the enforcement of technology use policies (for example) won't come into conflict with human rights legislation.

I agree that issues in employment relations are never black and white. Even something such as an "Internet addiction" falls into some shade of gray. I just think this issue leans much closer to either pole than the middle. If an employee is not doing his or her job, and is caught surfing the Net all hours of the day, the employer should have right to terminate that employee, whether for lack of productivity, theft, or violation of a technology use policy.

If the employee says in response to the termination, "But I am addicted to the Net," the employer has a choice. It can (1) carry through with its decision, (2) reconsider its decision and try to make a reasonable accommodation for the employee, or (3) hold the employee's job while the employee seeks help. The magnanimous employer may choose #2 or #3, but I don't think the ADA requires it.

The situation may be different if the employee requests an accommodation for the addiction before the termination decision, but in that case the employee still has to be able to perform the essential functions of the job with that accommodation. If the employee's job requires Internet and email access, it's hard to imagine an accommodation that would enable to employee to work.

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