For years, employers tried to argue that an employee who received federal Social Security disability payments couldn’t claim she was also covered by the ADA and entitled to reasonable accommodations.
The idea was that employees who tell the Social Security Administration (SSA) that they are totally disabled and unable to work couldn’t then claim they can perform the essential functions of their jobs.
Courts rejected that argument, reasoning that the federal disability rules don’t take into account possible accommodations. Now a federal appeals court has heard a similar argument from an employee and rejected it.
Recent case: Roszetta McNeill developed disabilities that made her eligible for Social Security disability payments from 1996 to 2000, when she returned to work. Her disabilities included lupus and a blood disorder. When she returned to work, her doctors suggested she should avoid working in cold or drafty conditions.
She asked for reasonable accommodations because she still had the underlying medical conditions that had made her eligible for the disability payments in the first place.
Her employer argued she wasn’t entitled to any accommodations because she wasn’t disabled. McNeill argued that since the SSA said she was disabled, she didn’t need to prove she was disabled.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. Unlike under the ADA, employees can sometimes automatically qualify for disability status under the Social Security rules simply by being diagnosed with a specific condition. Under the ADA, employees must show their conditions are severe enough to substantially impair a major life function. (McNeill v. Wayne County, No. 07-2325, 6th Cir., 2008)
Final note: Always consider each claimed disability on its own terms. How limited is the employee in her everyday life?
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