For HR professionals and supervisors with superstitious staffers, when the 13th falls on a Friday, it can mean more absenteeism and less productivity. An estimate in 2004 put the business loss at $800-$900 million. If that estimate still holds up, then the superstition will cost U.S. business almost $3 billion this year, since there are three months when the 13th falls on a Friday: today, then in April and July.
As silly as it may for some, for perhaps as many as 21 million Americans, the day holds special fears. This could mean anything from exercising more care than usual, to a compulsive, even pathological inability to function.
Many date the fear back to antiquity, never mind that the researchers who have looked into friggatriskaidekaphobia find no reference to it before the 1800s. On the other hand, triskaidekaphobia — fear of things 13 — has historical antecedents going back centuries. Today it holds sway today in such subtle ways as omitting the 13th floor of buildings and hospital and hotel rooms, and airline flight numbers.
Workers debilitated by superstitions may have a genuine disability, which might well be covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, or, potentially, Title VII, if there is some sincere religious basis to fear of the day.
Before penalizing an employee for a Friday the 13th action, consider whether it might be some form of religious belief. The EEOC compliance manual says that merely because a practice may “seem illogical or unreasonable to others” or even if it is unique to just that one person, it might still be a legitimate religious practice requiring accommodation.
More commonly, a severe, debilitating case of friggatriskaidekaphobia may stem from some form of mental or emotional issue. While the term doesn’t appear in the psychiatric manual of mental health diagnoses (DSM-IV), it would probably be considered an anxiety disorder, if it was sufficiently severe. As a superstition, it would probably be ignored.
That’s a determination for a psychiatrist or a psychologist. HR’s role is to determine whether the impariment rises to the level of a disability, and if it does, then what accommodation is reasonable to make for such individuals.The EEOC itself advises “Not all conditions listed in the DSM-IV, however, are disabilities, or even impairments, for purposes of the ADA.” However, if it is, then says the EEOC, “To rise to the level of a “disability,” an impairment must “substantially limit” one or more major life activities of the individual.”