Favorite Firing: Employee Terminated for Peeing in a Cup


Human Resources managers find themselves dealing with the oddest situations. Some of them are quite gross. This Favorite Firing involves a guy who was terminated for peeing in a cup. When I first heard about the case, I assumed it was related to urine testing for drug use. But this case had nothing to do with drug testing—this was an employee who peed in a breakroom.

sterile-urine-cupFacts: The case of Johnson v. American Signature, Inc., Case No. 11 C 6467 (N.D. Ill. March 26, 2014), dealt with an employee who claimed he had “urinary urgency” and couldn’t get to a bathroom at work in time to relieve himself. So he urinated in front of a coworker in a breakroom in the workplace. He placed the cup on the breakroom counter, then moved it under the sink in the breakroom, and later disposed of it in the restroom.

After he was fired (surprise!) for this unseemly and unsanitary behavior, he filed a claim for disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that his “urinary urgency” was a disability. The employer, a furniture retailer, claimed to know that plaintiff Johnson had mobility problems, but said it knew nothing about his “urinary urgency.”

The employer said that after its investigation, Mr. Johnson was terminated for violating the employer’s policy against “personal conduct which substantially impairs the associate’s ability by reason of its detrimental effect either on the associate’s relationship with other associates or the business or reputation of the company.”

This policy is vague enough to cover just about anything, but urinating in a common area in the workplace would have a detrimental effect on anyone’s relationship with coworkers.

The District Court that considered the case found that even if Mr. Johnson’s urinary problems were a disability, the employer had not known about it. Although Mr. Johnson claimed that the furniture company should have accommodated his disability, the Court found that the employer couldn’t accommodate what it didn’t know about. Moreover, Mr. Johnson had not tried to ameliorate his problem prior to the events leading to his termination, even though he had been aware of his urinary problems. He made suggestions only after his workplace “accident.”

As a result, the Court found that the employer could not have discriminated against Mr. Johnson and granted summary judgment in favor of the employer.

Moral: The moral of this story is that anything can happen in the workplace. And anything that can happen usually does.

Beyond that, the moral is that employers should engage in an interactive dialogues with employees when they learn of any employee disability or potential disability. They should also investigate after a workplace problem that might be related to a disability.

But employers are allowed to use common sense. And when an employee behaves inappropriately in the workplace without previously informing the employer about a disability, disciplinary action is warranted, including termination.

For more on this case, see the Court’s opinion here. And thanks to the Employer Handbook blog for reporting this case.

When has your employer had to deal with an unsanitary condition in the workplace?

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