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Lupus and the Americans with Disabilities Act

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Updated April 30, 2012

Lupus and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Disability Support

Murat Cokeker @Dreamstime.com

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provides strong and enforceable protection for members of the American workforce who suffer from disabilities. The ADA specifically forbids all employers from discriminating against qualified individuals in terms of hiring, firing, pay, promotion, training opportunities, and all other employment-related terms, conditions, and privileges. The ADA applies to private employers with more than 15 employees, as well as governmental entities, labor unions, and employment agencies.

Who is Covered by the ADA

Many times people want to know if lupus-related disability is covered by the ADA. In fact, ADA isn’t based on a particular medical condition. The broad language of the ADA may be applied to most illnesses. ADA protection applies to members of the American workforce who meet the general definition of disability that is written into the law. Some lupus patients meet the ADA definition of disability, and some do not.

By definition, a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life issues is considered to have a disability under the ADA. A person whose lupus is in remission, or exhibits only very mild symptoms, is not likely to fall under the scope of the ADA. However, a lupus patient who requires dialysis as a result of lupus nephritis probably will meet the definition of disability.

Ada in the Workplace

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. ADA mandated accommodations afforded to workers with disabilities are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. An accommodation is simply a modification made to a job or work environment that provides an individual with a disability an opportunity to be on a level playing field with a non-disabled worker.

Accommodations can be looked at as a means to bridge the gap between the essential functions of the job and what a person with a disability is able to do without accommodation. A key component of the ADA is the concept of a reasonable accommodation. For example, there probably is no reasonable accommodation for a massage therapist who loses the ability to move his or her arms. There is nothing an employer can do to bridge the gap between being able to provide massages to a client and arm paralysis. However, in would be reasonable to expect an employer to provide a larger monitor for a data entry worker who is vision impaired if the accommodation would raise her job performance to that of non-vision impaired individuals. Most cases of questions regarding disability-related accommodation are not so clear-cut.

Lupus and the ADA

Lupus patients frequently experience fatigue. Reasonable accommodations for a worker experiencing fatigue could include things such as allowing the worker to: telecommute, work a flexible schedule, take periodic rest breaks, or use a scooter. Any such accommodation would have to be reasonable for the job. Telecommuting would probably not be a reasonable accommodation for an operating room nurse, but flexible scheduling might be a win-win accommodation option for the employer and the employee. However, telecommuting might be an excellent accommodation for a person employed as a copy editor for a magazine or newspaper.

Lupus patients who exhibit Reynaud’s Phenomenon are very sensitive to cold. Reasonable accommodations for a worker with Reynaud’s Phenomenon could include: a modified dress code, providing a heater for the employee’s workstation, and redirecting HVAC vents. Providing a heater for the employee’s workstation would likely be a reasonable accommodation for an accounting clerk. However, if the employee is a bus driver it would probably not be feasible or safe to provide an additional heating device. Allowing the bus driver to wear a jacket or a sweater with his or her uniform, however, would probably be a reasonable, win-win accommodation for everyone involved.

JAN Network

To learn more about the ADA, or how it might be applied to your specific situation, contact The Job Accommodation Network (JAN). The JAN is a free resource provided by the United States Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and can be reached by calling 800-526-7234. JAN can provide information to workers and employers regarding the general ADA information, recommendations for job accommodations, and employment issues associated with disabilities.

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