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Fallout from unwanted office birthday party cost U.S. employer $450,000, but lessons are universal

Disciplining or terminating an employee after they disclose a mental health issue is ill-advised

Workplace stress is a fact in every employee’s life. Put several strangers in a room for prolonged periods of time and you are bound to run into clashes of personality, opinion and temperament. For some, even claustrophobia.

These tensions can create emotional stress, politicize the workplace and divert attention from work. Aside from operational issues, workplace stressors can also give rise to serious liability on the employer’s part if not dealt with swiftly and appropriately. This is particularly so when tied to workers’ human rights.

A recent case out of Kentucky that has been making headlines tells a cautionary tale: An employee with a previously undisclosed mental health condition was awarded close to half a million dollars in damages. The reason? An unwanted office birthday party.

Kevin Berling suffered from an anxiety disorder and asked his employer not to throw him a b...

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