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Working with Fibromyalgia or ME/CFS – Your Rights Under the ADA

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By Karen Lee Richards • www.ProHealth.com • May 19, 2014


Often people who have fibromyalgia or ME/CFS want to – or need to – continue working but may encounter difficulties on the job due to their illness. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which took effect in 1992, was enacted in order to protect people with these and other illnesses/conditions from being discriminated against due to their disabilities.

Title I of the ADA is the section that specifically protects individuals with a disability from discrimination in relation to employment. It prohibits discrimination in all employment practices including: job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment-related activities.

Following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about your rights under Title I of the ADA.

Which employers must comply with Title I of the ADA?
  • Private employers who have 15 or more employees

  • Employment agencies

  • Labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees

  • State and local governments

Federal executive agencies are exempt from the ADA, but they have to comply with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which is almost identical to the ADA.

Who is covered under Title I of the ADA?

Title I protects qualified employees with disabilities. To be “qualified” means that you have the skill, education, experience, and other job-related requirements of the position and can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Whether or not you qualify as “disabled” can be a little trickier to determine. There is no list of acceptable disabilities, so no one is automatically included or excluded on the basis of their particular disability. An individual is considered to have a disability if he or she:
  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;

  • Has a record of such an impairment;

  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working.

What is reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
  • Making existing facilities accessible

  • Job restructuring

  • Part-time or modified work schedules

  • Acquiring or modifying equipment

  • Changing tests, training materials, or policies

  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters

  • Reassignment to a vacant position

  • Medical leave

  • Work from home

The following are not considered forms of reasonable accommodation and therefore not required under the ADA:
  • Removing or eliminating an essential function from a job

  • Lowering production standards

  • Providing personal use items such as a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or similar devices if they are also needed off the job

How should I ask for a reasonable accommodation from my employer?

If you feel you meet the criteria for having a disability and have a reasonable accommodation in mind that would help you do your job, you simply need to tell your employer. The only “requirement” is that you let your employer know that you need an adjustment or change at work for a reason related to a medical condition. You do not have to have a formal meeting or file a written request; nor do you need to mention the ADA or use the words “reasonable accommodation.” Although a written request is not required, for your own protection it is best to confirm your conversation with an e-mail or, at the very least, make a notation on your personal calendar.

If your employer denies your request, try to find out why so you know what to do next. For example, if your employer denied your request because your medical information did not show that you have a disability, you can provide additional information. Or, if your employer decided that the accommodation you requested would pose an undue hardship on the company, you may be able to negotiate other options.

What should I do if I feel I’ve been discriminated against because of my disability?

If you’ve exhausted all of your options within the company and union (if you have one) then it’s time to talk with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They are the government agency charged with seeing that employers comply with the ADA. Contact your local EEOC field office first. Learn about the filing procedures and find your local EEOC office at: Filing a Charge of Employment Discrimination

If your local EEOC office refuses to help you or gives you misinformation (like telling you your illness is not on the list of acceptable disabilities when there is no such list), you can call the EEOC’s Office of Legal Counsel at 202-663-4691 and ask to speak to the Officer of the Day.

Where can I get more information about the ADA?
  • Americans with Disabilities Act

  • ADA Information Line: 800-514-0301

  • Job Accommodation Network – JAN is a free consulting service under the Department of Disability Employment within the Department of Labor that provides assistance and information on job accommodations and the ADA.

  • Job Accommodation Network: 800-526-7234

Sources:
Employees’ Practical Guide to Requesting and Negotiating Reasonable Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved 5/19/2014. Job Accommodation Network.
A Guide to Disability Rights Laws.” 4/9/2012. Americans with Disabilities Act.
ADA Questions and Answers." 2/4/2009. Americans with Disabilities Act.



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