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Inability to sit does not constitute a disability

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Employees sometimes think that just about any minor medical or physical problem is a disability. Simply put, that just isn’t the case.

Unless the condition substantially impairs a major life function, the applicant or employee isn’t disabled and isn’t protected by the ADA. As the following case shows, being unable to sit for a few hours at a time isn’t a covered disability.

Recent case:
Mildred Maclin, who worked for SBC Ameritech, needed to take some time off following an auto accident. She suffered from back problems and could not sit for extended periods.

While she was off work, another co-worker filled in and did the job very well. Maclin returned, and SBC placed her in a different job but with the same pay and benefits.

Maclin sued under the ADA, alleging she had been placed in a different job because of her disability. But the court tossed out her disability case. It reasoned that the inability to sit for more than two hours at a time, which Maclin cited as her disability, wasn’t serious enough to be considered disabling. (Maclin v. SBC Ameritech, No. 07-1751, 7th Cir., 2008)

Final note: Maclin didn’t file an FMLA claim. She might have had more luck if she did. Employees who return from FMLA leave are entitled to the same or an equivalent job. In this case, the salary and benefits were the same, but her job duties did change. That could be enough to trigger a failure-to-reinstate lawsuit under the FMLA.

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