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MS on the Job: Workplace Protections Under ADA

MS on the Job: Workplace Protections Under ADA

One of the trickiest minefields in the life of a person with chronic illness involves employment.

If your symptoms aren’t obvious and don’t affect your ability to do your job, should you inform your employer and your co-workers? That’s an intensely personal decision, but you are under no legal obligation to do so.

The Americans With Disabilities Act, which covers employers with fifteen or more employees, prohibits on-the-job discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Knowing your rights in the workplace is essential to your ability to earn a living and remain independent.

Are you disabled? Under the ADA, you are considered disabled if you have a have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Multiple sclerosis is not always, but can be, a disabling condition. You are covered under the ADA if you can perform the duties of your job with or without reasonable accommodation.

What are “reasonable accommodations?” Reasonable accommodations include making facilities accessible by disabled people — with handicapped accessible parking spaces, entryways, and rest rooms for example, and acquiring or modifying equipment. Exceptions can be made if such accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.

What is an “undue hardship?” That would be something that requires great difficulty or expense to the employer or the business operation. There is no obligation on the part of the employer to lower standards or to provide personal use items. An employer is not obligated to assign your work to someone else.

What about the interview process? When interviewing for a job, you need not reveal your diagnosis. The potential employer is under no obligation to offer preferential treatment to people with disabilities and is free to choose the most qualified candidate. If you are offered a job and you require accommodations, you need only reveal the limitations involved. If your employer offers medical insurance, they cannot refuse to hire you because you or your spouse has MS.

What about COBRA protections? If you lose your job, you will be allowed to keep your medical coverage through COBRA. COBRA protections end after 18 months when due to loss of job, and after 36 months when loss of coverage is due to divorce or death of the covered spouse. You are 100 percent responsible for the premiums during that time.

What should you do if you have a complaint? If you believe your rights in the workplace have been violated, you can file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

All of this assumes that your MS has not progressed to a level where full-time employment is no longer an option. Scaling down to part-time work or freelancing comes with its own set of problems, financially and where health insurance is concerned.

For additional information visit: Americans with Disabilities Act and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and join the Fight for the Public Option.

Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace due to MS? Share your story in the comment section below.

Writer Ann Pietrangelo embraces the concept of personal responsibility for health and wellness. As a multiple sclerosis patient, she combines a healthy lifestyle and education with modern medicine, and seeks to provide information and support to others. She is a regular contributor to Care2.com’s Reform Health Policy blog in Causes.

Read more: Conditions, Health, Living with MS, Multiple Sclerosis, , , , , ,

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25 comments

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5:22AM PDT on Jun 30, 2014

I was diagnosed with a 'borderline' case of MS about 7 years ago, and ever since then I have been taking my meds religiously. I was also laid off from my job because of the economy (as were most of my contemporarys) ~6 years ago, and didn't land another permanent gig for 4 1/2 years, during which time I came to discover, the MS had progressed, but without my conscious knowledge. I just got fired from this new gig as a computer programmer, due to the effects of my MS (in short, 'cognitive impairments' have started appearing) but when I looked around for advocacy groups, or something at all, all I found around me was a WHOLE lot of deafening silence. This in spite of the brave sounding and implicitly action filled titles of what organizations did exist (such as "the Alabama Disability Advocacy Project" [get it? ADA]). Yes, I am in Alabama, a place known for its lack of resources. And yes, I called every one I could dig up. However, none of these organizations had anything to offer, other than a list of lawyers, so in desperation, I called that entire list. But NONE of those lawyers ever even returned my calls. So: I am about to lose my (newly bought) house, and will have to move in with and mooch off family, because they are the only ones who responded to my distress. So, my question to the crowd is; Why did the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) ever even get passed when there was nobody at all to enforce it? MS is (supposedly) protected under the ADA, but if nob

6:28PM PDT on Oct 5, 2009

which To Deborah Oct. 5: I post that which is said better than I have:
(the unknown writer of Ecclesiastes wrote
" . . .I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding; . . but time and chance happens to them all. " (9:11)

My heart aches for Deborah and yet she gives me strength.

5:46PM PDT on Oct 5, 2009

I let that employer know that they are not better than people with disabilities and that nondisabled people are automatically better than someone with a disability, and that we

Oh darn, I meant that people who do not have disabilities are NOT automatically better than those us with disabilities. Wow. I am so sorry for my mistake, but believe me, when I have to shame a bigot who thinks we are inferior just because we have a little something wrong with us, I am on top of things more than it seems.

5:41PM PDT on Oct 5, 2009

Dear posters to this issue, I work at a disability rights and disability advocacy agency, and I hear the same experiences of people with disabilities trying to get employment every day. I really feel that this country is not much better than when it sterilized people with disabilities. I just feel like the attitude towards people with disabilities hasn't made much progress for most of a century. I have Aspergers, and people can tell right away I'm different. I am treated like a child and patronized. But you know what? I do EVERYTHING I can to put my detractors to shame, and in front of as many people as possible. It just so happens that I have an exceptional vocabulary and I use it against people who are obviously prejudiced. I will not bother to use tact to people who are bigoted against those of us with disabilities, especially employers who have shown they will not hire a very qualified person just because they have a disability. I let that employer know that they are not better than people with disabilities and that nondisabled people are automatically better than someone with a disability, and that we make up the largest minority in the world, and the miniority of people with disabilities is the only minority that anyone can join at any time. I LOVE to put bigots against those of us with disabilities to shame! Serves them right, and I tell them that.

10:00PM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

the fmla is nationwide. it's a federal act.

that's what i was on for 3 months [even though my injury was l & i (worker's comp in other states) and not because of illness.

9:57PM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

the company that i was referring to,jl, does not offer short term or long term disability to its employees.

neither does the company i was terminated from because i'm now disabled do that here in wa. they ONLY offer short term and long term disability to ca employees.

6:48AM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

Please pardon my double post a couple back. Don't know what happened.

Annie, thanks. Where I live (MD) we don't have that. We have FMLA--the Family Medical Leave Act. All it does is protect your job in the instance of an extended absence due to illness of yourself or a family member. It just means they can't replace you for a certain amount of time.

We also have short-and long-term disability, but those don't kick in for..I believe it's 6 months.

6:44AM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

Thanks, Frank. My doctors seem pretty clueless. I have a few more tests to undergo before I go on to the next step. A friend has referred me to what's supposed to be a real fancy, high-end clinic. If my own doctors don't help me, I'm going to check into them. (Luckily, they work with a number of insurers, and I have Care Credit.)

The problem for my boyfriend is not accessibility. We live in the DC area, so Gallaudet is nearby as a resource--he went there initially and then ended up graduating from American University. The problem, for him, is that employers are discriminating before the fact and just not bothering to interview people they see as a potential "liability." Someone who will need accomodation--even if they are brilliant--is a "liability," because the perception is that they will cost more money to the company.

Do I sound cynical? I am. Very much so.

6:44AM PDT on Aug 28, 2009

Thanks, Frank. My doctors seem pretty clueless. I have a few more tests to undergo before I go on to the next step. A friend has referred me to what's supposed to be a real fancy, high-end clinic. If my own doctors don't help me, I'm going to check into them. (Luckily, they work with a number of insurers, and I have Care Credit.)

The problem for my boyfriend is not accessibility. We live in the DC area, so Gallaudet is nearby as a resource--he went there initially and then ended up graduating from American University. The problem, for him, is that employers are discriminating before the fact and just not bothering to interview people they see as a potential "liability." Someone who will need accomodation--even if they are brilliant--is a "liability," because the perception is that they will cost more money to the company.

Do I sound cynical? I am. Very much so.

8:49PM PDT on Aug 27, 2009

jl m -- your work situation is quite sad. here in wa, many companies now use l & i [labor and industry] for sick leave. in other words, if someone is sick, they don't get sick leave for that day or days that they are off. after 7 days, l & i kicks in and they get 60% of their daily rate of pay until they come back to work.

of course, since all of the info is computerized, when there are lay offs, guess who gets laid off first?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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