While the ADA says organizations must provide reasonable accommodations to people with qualifying disabilities, be aware that many apparently serious conditions aren’t limiting enough to be considered disabilities.
When faced with a claimed disability, don’t judge whether it’s a disability based on your instincts or guesses. Employers should evaluate whether the condition “substantially impairs one or more major life activities,” as required by the ADA.
You can ask an employee who requests accommodation to explain how the ailment affects his or her life. If the person can’t point to any significant activity (such as caring for himself or herself, breathing, working or walking), the employee may not be disabled and you don’t need to offer accommodations.
Recent case: Foot Locker employee Tracy Kelman battled colitis and Crohn’s disease for most of his life. Eventually, he had to have surgery and wear a colostomy bag.
He told HR about his condition but never asked for any accommodation. He did complain, though, that co-workers sometimes made embarrassing comments about his odor.
When Kelman began having , Foot Locker fired him.
He sued for ADA disability discrimination, alleging the company terminated him because of his disability.
A federal court disagreed. Kelman had testified that his condition didn’t slow him down and the only activity he couldn’t do was go for a swim.
Even though Crohn’s disease undoubtedly is serious, the condition didn’t significantly affect his day-to-day life. Therefore, he wasn’t disabled or covered by the ADA. (Kelman v. Foot Locker, No. 05-CV-2069, DC NJ, 2006)