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Illness controlled by medication may still be considered a ‘disability’

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Here's a vexing question faced by many HR professionals: Can employees be considered "disabled" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even if their disability can be controlled by medication or other corrective treatments? The answer: "Yes, it's possible," but you must look at each person's situation separately.

The ADA defines a "disability" as any physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activity. You must consider the effects of medicine or corrective treatments on those ailments. But the deciding factor is whether the employee, even with corrective treatment, is still substantially limited in one life activity. In some cases, medication may partially, but not completely, control the employee's condition, or it may introduce side effects.

That's why it's smart to treat every ADA claim on a case-by-case basis. Focus on the employee's abilities after the corrective measures, and then judge his or her ability to do the job. While the employee in the following case wasn't deemed disabled, the story could be different in another case. When in doubt, run the issue by your employment attorney.

Recent case: An office worker sued her employer, alleging that it violated disability-discrimination law by refusing to allow her to work from home as a reasonable accommodation for hypertension. The employee claimed that working at the office made her high blood pressure worse. She acknowledged that medication helped control her condition when she was forced to be at the office.

The court sided with the company, saying she wasn't considered "disabled" because medication largely corrected her impairment and because no other illnesses prevented her from working on site. Also, the accommodation she requested wasn't tied to her condition. (Coleman-Adebayo v. Leavitt, No. 03-2428, D.D.C., 2004)

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