Does Internet Addiction Require Accommodation under the ADA?

Not that long ago, I predicted that employees might start alleging that technology addictions should be considered “disabilities” such that they could require accommodation under the ADA.

Unfortunately, I was correct. A New York man has sued his former employer, IBM, after the company fired him for visiting online adult chat rooms while at work. From the reports:

James Pacenza, 58, of Montgomery, says he visits chat rooms to treat traumatic stress incurred in 1969 when he saw his best friend killed during an Army patrol in Vietnam.

In papers filed in federal court in White Plains, Pacenza said the stress caused him to become “a sex addict, and with the development of the Internet, an Internet addict.” He claimed protection under the American with Disabilities Act.

IBM has sought a summary judgment, pointing out that the aceptable use policy clearly prohibits use of Internet chat rooms at work and that the employee was warned several months earlier that another visit to the sites would result in termination. The employee denies ever receiving a prior notice.

It remains to be seen what the facts are or how the case will be resolved, but it reminds us of the importance of (1) acceptable use policies, to outline what is or is not acceptable use of technology, and (2) documenting discipline (if discipline was administered properly, it should be fairly simple to determine whether or not the employee had been notified previously of the problems with his use of technology).

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