Protections for disabled workers are expanding

2157-Fall-GP-LEMA disabled-300x200Under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who are otherwise qualified for a job but who have a disability may have to be given “reasonable accommodations” that enable them to do the work.

That means that if a disabled worker needs a flexible schedule, a more handicap-accessible workplace, or minor alterations to job duties, the employer has to allow them, as long as they don’t overly burden the business.

For example, Jane Harris worked as a resale steel buyer for the Ford Motor Company. She also suffered from a severe case of irritable bowel syndrome, which often made it difficult for her to commute and work in an office.

When Harris asked to be able to telecommute due to her condition, Ford refused, claiming that her physical presence in the office was essential to her job.

Eventually she sued, and a federal appeals court in Ohio allowed her lawsuit to go forward. The court said she might have a good case because technology has improved and the types of jobs that an employee can do while telecommuting have expanded considerably in recent years.

In another case, a chemical engineer in Illinois suffered from ADHD and bipolar disorder. To accommodate her medication schedule, her employer had allowed her to start work at 10 a.m. But after two years, a new supervisor arrived and ordered her to show up at 8:30 a.m. She was eventually fired for violating the new attendance policy.

A federal court allowed her to sue, though, saying that the 10 a.m. start time was apparently a reasonable accommodation since it had worked well for two years.

And did you know that a worker doesn’t actually have to be disabled to be protected by the law – as long as the employer thinks the worker is disabled?

For example, a sales consultant in Nevada told his manager that he needed to take medical leave to have knee surgery, and that he would be out for at most a week. But the manager apparently didn’t believe him, and thought the surgery would leave him unable to work for a much longer time. The manager fired him, and said he could return later but only if he provided a doctor’s note releasing him to work.

A federal judge allowed the employee to sue. Even though the employee wasn’t actually disabled, his employer believed he had a serious disability, and so he was protected by the law.