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|Editor's Note: This article pertains to federal disability laws in the United States. There are different state and local laws in the United States, and there are often disability protection laws in other countries as well. This article should not be construed as legal advice. Consult your own attorney or legal advisor before making important decisions about your employee's rights or your own employment rights.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") controls the way in which employers and employees deal with disabilities in the workplace. Under the ADA, individuals with disabilities who want to work and are qualified to work must have an equal opportunity to work. You also must be able to do the job you want or were hired to do, with or without reasonable accommodation. Meaning, if you want to be an astronaut, but have no formal training, you cannot sue NASA for not hiring you based on your dysautonomia diagnosis. However, if you want to be or were hired to be an accountant, but you have a form of dysautonomia, if you are qualified to be an accountant and were hired for that particular job, your boss must allow you the opportunity to work despite your illness.
What is a disability?
Under the ADA you have a disability if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, working and the operation of a major bodily function, including functions of the immune system, sense organs and skin, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions.
Most dysautonomia patients suffer with symptoms that would qualify them as having a disability under the ADA definition, although each case needs to be determined on an individual basis. For example, dysautonomia patients who are able to work may have impairment when it comes to manual labor, standing or sitting for extended periods of time or cognitively processing tasks quickly. There are many other ways in which dysautonomia could contribue to disability in the workplace.
If you qualify as having a disability, how does the ADA protect you?
The ADA requires employers to provide disabled individuals a ?reasonable accomodation? during the hiring process and on the job, if the employee requests it.
What is a "reasonable accommodation" at work?
A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that would allow you to apply for a job, perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace. If you think you might need an accommodation for the application process or on the job, you have to request one. You may request a reasonable accommodation at any time during the application process or any time before or after you start working.
Examples of reasonable accommodations for people with dysautonmia are:
-being allowed time off if you need medical treatment for dysautonomia;
-a greater amount of breaks;
-an ergonomic chair and desk that enable those with dysautonomia to be able to sit more comfortably;
-a temperature-controlled workspace;
-access to foods, medicines and liquids;
-extra time to complete assignments so long as there is no set deadline;
-being able to telecommute on symptomatic days; and
-being able to stray from the dress code if you need to wear compression stockings.
Tips to keep in mind:
-employers can choose among effective accommodation options and do not always have to provide the requested accommodation;
-employers do not have to provide accommodations that pose an undue hardship;
-employers do not have to provide as reasonable accommodation personal use items needed in accomplishing daily activities both on and off the job (i.e., your employer doesn't have to buy you compression stockings);
-employers do not have to make an accommodation for an individual who is not otherwise qualified for a position; and
-employers do not have to remove essential functions, create new jobs, or lower productions standards as an accommodation.
What if you suspect that your boss is discriminating against you because you have dysautonomia?
Your employer may not fire or discipline you for asserting your rights under the ADA. If you feel as though you?re being discriminated against, please contact your local EEOC office. Someone will help you determine whether you should file a charge of discrimination. There is no cost to you to file a charge. In most states, you have 300 days from the time the alleged discrimination occurred to file a charge, but in some states you may have only 180 days.
A Word of Caution
Although employers in the United States tend to have certain goals in hiring people with disabilities, choosing to disclose whether you have a disability on an employment application is a personal decision. You are not required by law to disclose this information. However, it's a good idea to consider the employer you're applying with if you have dysautonomia. For example, if you're applying to work for a governmental agency, disclosing disability status may actually be in your favor considering their strict adherence to federal law. However, if you're applying to a job where you think you might be overlooked in the application process because of your dysautonomia disclosure, it may be better to reveal your need for reasonable accommodations once you have the job. Even though federal law states that employers may not count you out as an applicant due to dysautonomia, we live in a society where, unfortunately, people with disabilities are marginalized, especially behind closed doors. Thus, if you are able to work despite your dysautonomia, carefully consider your audience during the application process.
This article was written using information from Americans with Disabilities Act: A Guide for People with Disabilities Seeking Employment, October 2000 pamphlet. Publication Number ADA-0001 ICN 951750. Thank you to Amy Krakower, Esq. for providing background research and content for this article.