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Is there a law to protect employees with chronic health conditions from being fired due to absences or having to leave work early?

Monday July 14, 2014
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Question:

Dear Nancy,

I have been working at a dialysis facility for almost 23 years, and I have had chronic migraines for almost as long. The condition is getting worse, and I am missing a lot of time from work. I even ran out of sick time this year and am now calling in sick without pay. Everyone in my facility is aware of my condition, but there are times when I have to go home in the middle of the day because I was feeling sick. It's well documented because I visit my physician due to my migraine a lot, and my facility has a note from my physician in reference to this matter. My hospital came up with a policy that people with absences can be fired after one verbal notice and two suspensions. The new policy has me very worried. I only have two more years before retirement. Is there a law to protect people with chronic conditions?

Lucinda



Dear Nancy replies:

Dear Lucinda,

It is hoped your long-standing migraines improve so that your professional and personal life improve as well. If you have not seen your physician recently for the migraines, you might want to do so since there have been new medications and possible new therapies for treating this condition.

At the same time, you should consult with a nurse attorney or attorney in your state who works with employees. State and federal laws protect an employee with chronic medical conditions, and one familiar one is the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against a person with a disability in relation to hiring, firing, promotion and other conditions of employment if the employee is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job, with or without reasonable accommodation (such as leaving early for a doctor's appointment or starting work later).

A disability under the act is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially affects one or more major life activities, such as breathing, working and eating. There is no laundry list of all the disabilities the ADA covers, which, as you can imagine, would be a difficult task at best.

With the help of your attorney, you can gather information about your migraine to document them for your employer. Information that would be important would include a letter and other required medical information from your physician, input from your colleagues and former individuals with whom you work who could attest to the limitations the migraines place on your ability to work. Also descriptions from your family members of your difficulties at home would be helpful.

Most often, with adequate documentation, establishing that one has a disability with an employer, when one truly exists, results in a resolution for you in the workplace, such as a reasonable accommodation. If the employer contests the fact that a disability exists under the ADA, then legal action is necessary. Your attorney can represent you in such a judicial proceeding if necessary.

Sincerely,
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.