CIOs & Health: Too Sick To Hire?

What sort of health problems can companies accept and manage in a CIO or other employee, and which are insurmountable?
Last weekend, Jerry Kill, head coach of the University of Minnesota's football team, had an epileptic seizure during a game -- not for the first time.

Since then, some people in the media and the general public have been calling for Kill to be fired. One of the most crass statements made in the press was by Jim Souhan of the Minnesota Star-Tribune who wrote that nobody who buys a ticket to a University of Minnesota football game "should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground." Although some people support Souhan, many people have criticized him, and the university stands by Coach Kill.

Nevertheless, as an epileptic, a journalist, a sports fan and a former collegiate athlete myself, I am dismayed, to say the least. Seizures are a terrifying thing to witness, so I understand that people's immediate, instinctual reaction is to be frightened, be uncomfortable, and wish for a person with a seizure disorder to be shut away where you don't have to look at him or her. However, hiring and firing decisions cannot be immediate and instinctual; they must be intelligent and informed. Fortunately, the university is standing by its coach.

But this isn't just about football. What if this were a CIO? True, most CIOs aren't quite as high-profile as a college football coach, but they're no shrinking violets -- they may have to speak at live events like conferences, board meetings and E2 radio and video shows. Would a company decide that someone with epilepsy cannot be a CIO? What about other executives?

This isn't just about epilepsy. There are other diseases and disorders that could cause a person to exhibit abnormal behavior. Our executive editor Curt Franklin gave me a perfect example. Years ago, during a meeting with representatives from another company, one of the gentlemen from that company began to say and do very peculiar things, including tying a tie around his head and spinning around in his swivel chair. Fortunately, two of the people on Curt's team had diabetes and recognized the behavior as an indication of dangerously low blood sugar. They acted fast and saved the man from what could have become a much worse medical emergency.

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