CHRONIC ILLNESSES AS DISABILITIES

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently obtained a $50,000 settlement on behalf of an employee for America’s Thrift Stores of Alabama who allegedly was refused a reasonable accommodation and fired because of her chronic illness, degenerative joint disease. The EEOC claimed that the employee had a good work record, but once she requested accommodations concerning lifting and reaching restrictions, ATSA denied her request and ultimately terminated her.

Chronic illnesses are generally defined as those lasting a year or longer and can include inflammatory conditions, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more. Statistics indicate that about 40 percent of U.S. workers have at least one chronic ailment, and about 20 percent have two or more.

When an employee has a chronic illness, organizations face many legal challenges. Obviously, an employer must ensure that it does not discriminate against an employee whose condition falls under the definition of a “protected disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or the New  York State Executive Law. The ADA and the NYS Executive Law may also require an employer to provide the employee with a reasonable accommodation, such as a change in scheduling, altering the way certain non-essential job duties are performed, or reassignments to a vacant position.  For those employers with fifty (50) or more employees, Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) questions involving reduced-schedule or intermittent leave may also arise.

If you have an employee, or if you are an employee, with a chronic illness, and you need information regarding your rights and responsibilities, it’s best to speak to an experienced employment and labor law attorney before you take any action.

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