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MU Human Resources and Organizational Behavior Case Study

MU Human Resources and Organizational Behavior Case Study


Too Much Fatigue and Stress?

Job fatigue and stress are significant problems faced by employees and their managers. Unfortunately, when a case of depression arises as a result, trying to resolve the problem may be difficult—sometimes leading to conflict—as this case illustrates.

Donald Knolls was an air traffic control supervisor for International Gateway Airport (IGA), an airport serving a major metropolitan area. Donald began to experience depression-related problems largely due to severe stress and fatigue on the job. A few months later, he requested and was granted a disability leave for treatment of his illness. After eight months, his personal physician, an expert in depression treatment and a licensed consulting psychologist, agreed that he was sufficiently improved to return to his former position.

IGA then sent Donald to the physician it had used when Donald first requested his disability leave. After an extensive evaluation, the doctor concluded that while Donald had made considerable strides in overcoming his depression, he should not be immediately returned to his former supervisory position because the conditions of the job had not changed and he was apt to find the stress too great. Instead, he recommended that Donald be returned to a nonsupervisory position on a six-month trial basis, with the case to be reviewed at the end of that time. IGA followed the advice of its doctor and did not return Donald to a supervisory position. Donald, angered by management’s decision, filed a grievance through IGA’s alternative dispute resolution procedure, a procedure that could end in binding arbitration.

During several meetings between Donald and management, the employer maintained that it had the right to rely on the medical opinion of “a fair and impartial” doctor who had determined that Donald should not be returned to the position that was the cause of his original stress-related emotional problems. Additionally, management pointed out to Donald that IGA’s disability leave provision stated that it “may require appropriate medical documentation if it believes an employee is not fit to return to his or her former position.”

Donald responded, through an attorney he hired to represent his position, that the disability leave provisions were clear but, nevertheless, biased against an employee because they completely disregarded the opinion of his physician and psychologist. According to Donald, “Why bother to get expert medical opinions if they are dismissed?” He further noted, “I have never felt better. I’m really ready to get back to my job.” Finally, Donald’s lawyer contended that Donald was the victim of discrimination based on his former state of depression: “What happened to Donald would not have happened if his illness had been a more conventional physical injury.”


1) When conflicting medical opinions are presented, should the advice of a medical expert count more heavily than the opinion of a general physician? Explain your answer.

2) Is the charge of discrimination presented by Donald’s lawyer relevant to this case? Explain your answer.

3) If you were presented with this case, what decision would you reach? Explain.

Source: Small Business Success Stories (Washington, DC: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, May 25, 2011),

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