Managing Your Chronic Condition at Work: Know Your Legal Rights

Author: Joe Acierno, M.D., J.D.  Legal Rights with Chronic Condition

The following content is not legal advice. This post is intended to provide general information.

Finding a work-life balance can be challenging. When you add a chronic health condition into the mix, it can feel overwhelming. For many people, managing a chronic condition in the workplace is about juggling their health, their privacy and their careers. If you or a loved one has a chronic condition, it’s important for you to understand the laws that protect people with medical disabilities. This information can help you be comfortable and confident in the workplace.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off without having to worry about losing their job. If you take family medical leave because you are unable to work due to a serious health condition, your job may be protected by FMLA. Employees who take time off to care for a seriously ill immediate family member are also protected. To qualify for FMLA protection, an employee must have worked at least 12 months with the company and worked at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months. FMLA laws may not apply to companies with fewer than 50 employees.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination at school, work and in other areas of life. There are five different sections of ADA, called titles. Title I is dedicated to employment. It covers everything from the hiring process and job training to promotions and benefits.

Is My Chronic Condition Considered a Disability?

Many chronic conditions are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Major life activities include seeing, hearing, walking, learning, communicating and interacting with others. Examples of chronic conditions that are considered a disability include heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV and others.

You are also protected if you have a record of physical or mental disability. A record of disability applies to someone who has had a disability in the past but does not currently have one. When it comes to determining whether or not a chronic condition is considered a disability under ADA laws, the EEOC suggests employers approach it on a case-by-case basis. The EEOC encourages employers not to focus on the chronic condition, but to consider accommodation requests and whether or not they are reasonable.

What is Reasonable Accommodation?

Under the ADA you can ask for reasonable accommodations to make work life easier with a chronic condition. Reasonable accommodations may include working remotely, working around doctor appointments or modifying equipment in the workplace to give you better access. Talk to your supervisor about how you can adjust your schedule, your duties or your work environment to accommodate working with a chronic condition. ADA requires your employer to offer reasonable accommodations, which do not impose unnecessary hardship on the company. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers training and resources to help make your workplace more accessible for people with disabilities.

Know Your Right to Privacy

Privacy law in the workplace can be confusing. It often depends on your unique situation. While you may be hesitant to discuss your chronic condition with your employer, it may make your work life easier. If you expect to have regular doctor visits or require reasonable accommodation, you should tell your supervisor and HR department ahead of time. It may be a good idea for your boss to know about your chronic condition in case you need emergency medical attention at the office. Honest communication can help you avoid misunderstandings and frustration at work.

Your employer can ask if you are able to perform your work duties with or without reasonable accommodation. If you request reasonable accommodation under ADA or medical leave defined by FMLA, your employer can ask for information to verify your disability. Under the ADA you are not required to disclose the specific nature of your medical condition but you may have to provide a reason and official medical documents to support your request for accommodation. Medical documentation is required to describe your limitations, which may prevent you from doing work. As a general guideline, these official medical documents should contain the name and credentials of your healthcare provider, state the limits of your medical description and include why the employee may need reasonable accommodation. While you may request privacy, keep in mind that employers can share your medical condition with necessary team members, such as your supervisor or office safety personnel.

Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions’ Whole-Health Approach

People living with a chronic condition may have to miss work because they don’t feel well. Medication and medication side effects can play a major role in managing your health and being able to work. Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS) takes a whole-health approach to helping patients manage chronic health conditions by offering experienced clinical pharmacists and other patient support services. Tell your HPS pharmacist if you are having trouble managing your chronic condition. Our goal is to make every patient’s life easier, healthier and happier.