Acute but temporary illness isn’t disability

Don’t jump to the conclusion that, just because a sudden illness or condition requires emergency medical care or even surgery, the employee who falls ill is disabled.

The standard ADA test still applies. Always look at the facts and decide whether the condition substantially impairs a major life function like breathing, seeing, hearing or walking. The key word is “substantially.”

Conditions that rapidly resolve themselves aren’t disabilities.

Recent case: Christopher Fuller began working as a bus driver, but about a month into the new job, he had to suddenly leave work because of abdominal pain. The next day, he had his appendix removed. He was back at work less than three weeks later.

Then, while still under his initial probation, Fuller missed several more days due to pink eye.

Managers told him that his attendance was poor and that he hadn’t passed probation. He was fired.

Fuller sued, alleging he had been fired because he was disabled.

The court disagreed. It said temporary medical problems that resolve quickly—such as appendicitis and pink eye—aren’t disabilities. Therefore, the ADA didn’t apply. (Fuller v. Broward County Mass Transit, et al., No. 08-61016, SD FL, 2009)

Warning: Had Fuller been employed for at least one year, he might have been covered by the FMLA. Under the FMLA, employers can’t consider absences for a serious health condition as a negative attendance factor if the employee was entitled to FMLA leave. Emergency surgery to remove an appendix would clearly meet the definition of a serious health condition because it required in-patient surgery and prevented him from performing the essential functions of his job for three or more days.