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Insist on more than just diagnosis when employee claims ADA serious condition

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in Human Resources

Some employees mistakenly believe that, just because they have been diagnosed with a serious condition, they are disabled and entitled to an accommodation. That’s not necessarily the case.

Employers can and should analyze the claimed disability to see whether it really substantially impairs one of the employee’s major life functions. The diagnosis alone is not enough. It’s just the starting point.

Recent case: There was never any doubt Mike Kirkeberg has serious medical problems. A central retinal vein occlusion in his left eye meant he was legally blind in that eye—although his vision is normal in the right eye. He was also diagnosed with hepatitis B and was being evaluated to see what treatment he should undergo. That’s when his company decided to outsource his job to a contractor.

Kirkeberg sued, alleging he had been downsized because he was disabled.

But in court, a problem surfaced: He had never presented to his employer or the court any proof that he was substantially impaired in a major life function. All he could show was his diagnosis.

That wasn’t good enough for the court, which dismissed the case. Since he hadn’t proven he was disabled, the court never got to the question of why the company downsized him. (Kirkeberg v. Canadian Pacific Railway, No. 07-4621, DC MN, 2009)

Final note:
Start the ADA interactive accommodations process even while you’re still gathering information. That way, the employee can’t say you dragged your feet.

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