Don’t Confuse Bad Behaviour with a Disability
The law requires that we accommodate disabilities precisely because the disabled person has no choice or control over the disability. No one decides to have a disability. Disruptive workplace behaviour, on the other hand, is a choice – a decision.
People engage in bad behaviour in the workplace because it accomplishes something. Yelling loudly and gesturing erratically may be a way of getting co-workers to “tow the line” or “back off”. Signing and rolling eyes at a supervisor may simply be satisfying the objective of expressing frustration and resentment. No matter what the the behaviour, it is ultimately goal-oriented and planned.
This becomes obvious when we consider that many people who suffer from personality disorders, mental health issues and emotional instability don’t engage in problematic behaviour in the workplace. Even those who do, don’t do it all the time. And, whey they do, they tend to do so only in specific contexts – that is, in particular situations at particular times or with particular individuals present. For instance, the person who yells tends not to do that in front of superiors who can and will hold them accountable. Contrast that with the indiscriminate swearing of a person who suffers Tourette Syndrome.
Bad Decisions Do Not Equal “Bad Person”
We often explain people’s decisions to engage in bad behaviour in terms of intrapersonal (“within me”) factors such as personality, mental health and emotional stability. Yet this simplistic explanation ignores the extent to which factors in the inter-personal, intra-group and organizational realms can also de-stabilize a person’s decision-making capacity. Dealing with bad behaviour can’t be about labelling people as bad and punishing them; it can’t be about blamiing people. At the same time, employees can’t avoid dealing with bad behaviour in order to avoid blaming. We have to deal with bad behaviour in a way that avoids blaming.
Remember the Goal
The goal of dealing with bad behaviour is to support the employee in making good decisions in the future. The employer needs to take action to try and influence the employee’s decision-making.
And,, of course, if the employer’s reasonable efforts are unsuccessful, the employer may need to eventually remove the employee from the workplace. But in such cases, the action is not taken to punish a blamed employed, but rather to give priority to the employee’s other responsibilities, including the creation of a safe, healthy and respectful workplace for other employees, and the creation of a productive and effective business operation.