By: Anjana Puri

Question:

“I’ve recently been diagnosed with a disease. It may affect the way I do my job.  I work for a large company.  I’m scared that I’ll be fired if I tell my boss about my condition.  Is there anything that my Company needs to do to help me?  – Wurreed M. Ployee 

Answer:

The good news, Wurreed, is that there are federal laws that might benefit you.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) protects some individuals with specific medical conditions from employment discrimination.  It requires companies with 15 or more employees to make certain accommodations to disabled workers.

However, not everyone with a disability is protected.  Here are a few questions to see if you qualify:

Do you have a qualifying disability under the ADA?

A person may qualify under the ADA if he or she has a condition that seriously limits a major life activity.  A few examples include disabilities which prevent you from performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing or concentrating.  The ADA also considers diabetes, mental illness and substance abuse as qualifying disabilities.

Does your disability prevent you from doing your job?

To be protected by the ADA, you must be able to perform the major duties of your job with or without any additional help (or accommodations).  Here are some factors that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) will look at to determine what the essential tasks of your position are:

  • Written job description used for hiring
  • Employer’s judgment
  • The amount of time spent performing the task
  • Consequences of not requiring a person in a specific job to perform a function
  • The terms of union agreements
  • Work experience of past and present employees in your position

For example, let’s say you worked as a daytime delivery person and were diagnosed with a disability which made it impossible for you to drive at night.  Your disability doesn’t affect your ability to make deliveries during the day.  Nighttime deliveries are not an essential function for a daytime deliveryman.  That being said, if you can still do your job during the day, the EEOC will most likely protect you.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

To be “reasonable,” an accommodation does not need to be perfect or even exactly what you want (although your preference should be considered).  In some cases, it may be a violation of the ADA if your employer fails to make temporary arrangements to keep you working while your boss evaluates your request.

A reasonable accommodation may include:

  • Getting new or altering existing equipment and devices
  • Changing job duties
  • Part-time or modified work schedules
  • Reassignment to an open position
  • Amending performance examinations, training materials or policies
  • Providing readers and interpreters
  • Making the workplace accessible to people with disabilities

Let’s stick with the delivery person example as above.  If you can’t drive at night because of your disability, consider requesting a modified schedule – one that begins earlier in the day so that you can finish deliveries before sunset.  Such a request would likely qualify as a reasonable accommodation.

Does your boss have to accommodate you?

Here’s the bad news – employers are not required to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would cause an undue hardship.  This means an accommodation that would be too expensive, far-reaching, substantial or disruptive.  Issues to consider are:

  • Cost
  • Employer size
  • Financial resources
  • Nature and structure of the employer’s business

One more time with the delivery person example.  Your inability to drive at night can be reasonably accommodated by simply modifying your work schedule.  It’s unlikely that tweaking your delivery hours will cause the company a significant amount of time, money or other resources.  So your boss will probably be required to provide you this accommodation.  However, note that this varies from case to case, as all employers’ needs and resources are not the same.

This was a lot of information to take in, so let’s break it down:

Living with a disability is hard enough.  You don’t want to have to worry about losing your job on top of that.  Thankfully, the law may be able to give you some peace of mind.

anjana Anjana Puri

Associate Attorney

(212) 865-9848

Email Anjana

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