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Employers should protect Workers with panic attacks

As Americans become increasingly educated about the negative effects of mental health problems, business owners will become more responsible for their conduct toward mentally ill employees. This is particularly true of those Florida workers with panic attacks, according to recent reports, largely because of a recent decision regarding employee rights. A West Coast worker has been awarded $21.7 million in compensatory and punitive damages after her company reportedly dismissed her panic attacks and allegedly fired her for her disability.

Media reports show that the woman's employers at a California waste-hauling business initially dismissed the woman's claims about her panic attacks. The employer was accused of failing to provide adequate medical leave for the woman to receive treatment. Additionally, the woman's supervisors failed to make accommodations to help her do her job, and she claims she was harassed because of her mental health condition.

Courtroom documents show that the woman was repeatedly ignored when she attempted to contact the company to resume her position after her disability leave. The woman's panic attacks were so severe that she was hospitalized on numerous occasions. Furthermore, her supervisors exacerbated the problem by continuing to move the woman's cubicle, causing her even more stress.

Attorneys for the waste-management firm said the woman was not fired because of the panic attacks; rather, they claim that she failed to return to work after the designated disability period was complete. Defense attorneys say the woman ignored calls from human resources about her potential return to work.

Researchers say that as many as 19 million Americans are affected by anxiety disorders. Workers are encouraged to be candid with their employers about their conditions, and companies should handle the employees' condition in a similar fashion as heart disease or diabetes. People who have been mistreated by their employers because of their disabilities have been victimized, and they deserve civil compensation for their wrongful termination or harassment.

Source: Human Resource Executive, "Dealing with workers' panic attacks," Kathy Boccella, March 12, 2013

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