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Can an RN be forced out of a job on disability if they have difficulty breathing when floors where they work are stripped and waxed?

Friday May 23, 2014
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

I have difficulty breathing and prolonged coughing when floors are stripped and waxed at work. Can I be forced out on disability because of this?

Elsa



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Elsa,

Your symptoms sound as though you may be allergic to something used to strip and wax the floors. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, allergies are considered a disability if the allergy is something that affects your major life activities. Certainly, breathing is a major life activity. An employer cannot discriminate against an employee on the basis of a worker's disability alone.

If the employee is otherwise qualified to perform his or her job, generally an accommodation for the worker must take place. For example, it may be possible for you to schedule your days off when the floors are worked on there. If you have been tested for these symptoms and know their basis, your physician can support your request to be off on days the floors are done. Another option may be that you wear a mask every time work on the floors is done. It also may be possible you are given an alternative work arrangement on days the floors are stripped and waxed (e.g., you float to another unit). Any of these options could be a reasonable accommodation for you under the act.

Obviously, if the floors are worked on often, or if you would have difficulty breathing when the floors are worked on anywhere in the facility, this might create a more complex situation for you. You should seek an opinion from a nurse attorney or other attorney in your state who practices in the area of employment discrimination and represents employees in order to see how best to proceed with your concerns.

Cordially,
Nancy




Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.