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Disabled or not? Diagnosis and symptoms are just part of the analysis

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

The ADA protects disabled applicants and employees from discrimination and requires employers to reasonably accommodate those disabilities. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone who has a medical diagnosis and symptoms is disabled. Many serious conditions aren’t disabilities at all.

It all depends on how the condition affects the person’s daily life. Unless an employee is substantially impaired in a major life function such as walking, breathing, caring for himself or working, he is not disabled.

That’s why it’s important to gather as much information as possible before you concede that an employee is disabled. Many times, the claimed condition just doesn’t measure up.

Recent case: David Meador worked for a water reclamation facility as an operations engineer. When he began experiencing depression, anxiety and panic attacks, he asked to be taken off the swing shift and placed on a regular shift. He had medical documentation to back up his claim that his anxiety and depression would lessen with a steady shift. His doctor said the condition was temporary and should improve in six months.

The company accommodated his request, but then reassigned him to the swing shift after the six months were up. Meador asked for another accommodation, but the company denied his request. He sued, alleging disability discrimination.

The court analyzed his symptoms. While he had trouble sleeping, he did get six to seven hours of shut-eye per night. While his stomach hurt when he did not get regular meals and breaks, the pain was transient. And while Meador’s depression sometimes caused him to be short with his family and neglect proper hygiene, the court did not think that was a substantial impairment. The court rejected his claim. (Meador v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago, No. 06-C-2705, ND IL, 2007)

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