It’s fairly common for coworkers to joke around in the office and give each other nicknames, and many Minnesota employees simply accept this as a fact of life. However, some nicknames can go too far and be hurtful or degrading, and it’s important to know that can be considered workplace harassment.
A recent case of a school district groundskeeper illustrates how some nicknames can cross the line. The groundskeeper had been working at the school for about ten years when he was suddenly fired after an on-the-job accident he was involved with while driving a truck. The man has a low IQ and describes himself as borderline mentally handicapped and testified in a court case later that the accident was related to his employer’s refusal to accommodate his disability.
In addition to the lack of accommodations, he said that he also endured many years of harassment from his coworkers, who had nicknamed him “Forrest Gump.”
When confronted with these allegations, the school district denied that the man qualified for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, stated that he did not have a disability, and further argued that the nickname did not describe his intellect but rather his ping pong skills.
The court that heard the case didn’t buy the school district’s argument and ruled that the groundskeeper was entitled to protection because of his disability.
In this case, something that may seem small, like a diminutive nickname, was actually the sign of a greater problem of the district not properly protecting their disabled employee.
Source: Business Management, “How not to treat a learning-disabled employee” Oct. 26, 2012.