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The Americans With Disabilities Act and IBS

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Updated April 10, 2012

What Is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is legislation that prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals. The ADA was designed to prevent discrimination across the full range of human experience, including employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. The ADA applies to individuals who either have a disability or who are associated with a person with a disability. A disability is defined as

"(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
(B) a record of such an impairment;
or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment"

Is IBS Covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Yes, if a person's IBS symptoms significantly impact on a major life ability, IBS would qualify as a covered disability. An amendment to the ADA went into effect on January 1, 2009 that expanded the definition of a disability, providing better protection for individuals with chronic illnesses, such as IBS. Two specific changes are most applicable to IBS:

  • The term "major life activities" now includes recognition of problems with "major bodily functions" such as those of the digestive system.
  • The episodic nature of some disabilities is now recognized, as long as the symptoms interfere with a major life activity when present.

What Are Your Rights Under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The ADA is applicable to all employers who have 15 or more employees. It requires such employers to ensure that disabled individuals have an opportunity to benefit from all work-related opportunities. This includes such things as hiring, promotions, salary, raises and training opportunities. Employers are also required to make "reasonable accommodations" to the limitations of the disabled individual, as long as these accommodations do not result in "undue hardship". The ADA defines reasonable accommodations as:

"(A) making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
and
(B) job restructuring, part-­time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of equipment or devices, appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities."

How Do You Request Such an Accommodation?

According to the EEOC, all you have to do is make a request to your employer for an accommodation based on your medical needs. You do not have to mention the ADA or the term "reasonable accommodation". Although the ADA does not require such a request to be made in writing, it is probably a good idea to do so.

Your employer is entitled to ask for documentation regarding your IBS and the limitations it results in. The ADA recommends that you and your employer work together to determine what accommodation is needed. The act requires the employer to act quickly in responding to your request and in providing the necessary accommodation. Your employer is prohibited from disclosing such accommodations to your coworkers as the ADA ensures employee privacy regarding medical concerns.

How Do You Know if an Accommodation is Reasonable?

The Job Accommodation Network provides free guidance regarding accommodations for disabled workers. Although their database does not include IBS specifically, one can get ideas from looking at accommodations for other disabilities. One would imagine that comfortable access to a restroom would be considered to be a reasonable request. Modifying work schedules around times of symptom exacerbation or, when possible, allowing for work to be done from home, would also appear to be reasonable options.

The ADA also takes on the issue of "unpaid leave". This would be applicable to those of you for whom your IBS is so severe that you frequently miss work. Unpaid leave can be considered a reasonable accommodation if the employer is not able to offer another accommodation that would allow you to work and if such unpaid leave would not cause your employer undue hardship.

Sources:

A Guide to Disability Rights Laws Accessed January 3, 2011.

Small Employers And Reasonable Accommodation The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Accessed January 3, 2011.

"Titles I and V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Accessed January 3, 2011.

"Notice Concerning The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Accessed January 3, 2011.

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