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ADA: Employee with insomnia isn’t necessarily disabled

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Pushed to do more with less, many employers are asking employees to work longer hours. That can cause workers to lose sleep and may even result in diagnoses of insomnia. But not everyone who is sleep deprived and takes medication to sleep is disabled and entitled to reasonable accommodations, such as a shorter workday.

Recent case: Victoria worked as a lawyer for Discovery Com­mu­ni­ca­­tions. She got kudos for her skills but was rated poorly for being disorganized and having rocky relationships with co-workers.

While away on business, she got sick and saw a doctor. He told her she might have a sleep disorder. On her return, she went to another doctor who diagnosed insomnia, based on Victoria’s report that she slept less than four hours per night. She also got a sleep aid and took a few weeks of FMLA leave.

At that time, her doctors cleared her for work with an eight-hour workday restriction.

When she was ready to return to work, she demanded a flexible schedule that only required her to be in the office a few hours every day. Discovery denied her request. Shortly after, she was fired for inaccurate time records and being argumentative with co-workers.

She sued, alleging disability discrimination.

But the court refused to consider her disabled. It reasoned that poor sleep is common and that Victoria’s doctors no longer believed she was impaired. (Anderson v. Discovery, No. 11-2195, 4th Cir., 2013)

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