Crohn’s and Your Rights: Is Crohn’s Covered Under the Americans With Disabilities Act?

Crohn’s Impact on the Workplace

If you’re managing Crohn’s and you work for a living, you’re aware that your productivity fluctuates with the course of your disease.
Surveys show that more than half of working Crohn’s patients must curtail work hours on a regular basis, and reduced productivity in the workplace stemming from employees with Crohn’s can cost employers upwards of $1 billion per year. All told, each year, 15 work-weeks of lost productivity can be attributed to the debilitating effects of Crohn’s disease.

With figures like that, it’s no wonder that working Crohn’s patients feel anxious about job security, which doesn’t help the nature of their condition. Approximately one fifth of Crohn’s patients feel driven to secrecy and therefore hide their disease from their employer for fear of losing their job.
More than a third of Crohn’s patients sabotage their own advancement in their respective careers, turning down promotions or job offers over anxiety about whether or not they can meet the demands of a new position.
If you have Crohn’s, you don’t need to suffer from discrimination in the workplace. The first step you need to take is to know the law.

How to Protect Yourself on the Job

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects disabled employees from job discrimination in businesses with at least 15 workers on the payroll, provided they meet the ADA’s definition of mental or physical disability.
Crohn’s disease is a physical impairment of the digestive system, and according to the ADA, if it “substantially limits one or more major life activities” for an individual, which for a Crohn’s patient means negatively affecting their ability to consume food and dispose of bodily waste, then the ADA considers them to be disabled.

Furthermore, with respect to performing work duties, someone with Crohn’s may request “reasonable accommodation,” which the ADA defines as an adjustment that would not create any “undue hardship” to their employer. Examples of reasonable accommodations for an employee with Crohn’s can range from seating them near the restroom to allowing them to telecommute.
In the latter scenario, tasks that would otherwise be performed by the Crohn’s patient in the office would be assigned to one’s coworkers. However, in a workplace with a small, overburdened staff, extra tasks could be interpreted as causing “undue hardship,” which is why each situation must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Employers who fail to comply with the ADA’s guidelines run the risk of being sued by the U.S. Justice Department in federal court. First time offenders face civil penalties of up to $55,000 to cover compensatory damages and back pay, and $110,000 for any additional violation.

Should you take a leave of absence?

If you face a serious Crohn’s flare-up that inhibits your ability to work, or if it affects a family member in your care, you may be forced to consider taking time off.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of excused, unpaid absence from your job if you or a family member suffers from a “serious health condition” such as Crohn’s. Only companies with 50 or more employees are required to comply with the FMLA, and providing benefits or pay is subject to the employer’s discretion.

Don’t deny yourself of your rights and protection. Although it may feel scary, speaking up with your employer about your condition will only help you. Have a candid conversation about your workplace concerns and what adaptations can be made to better serve you and your employer.
Your doctor can write a letter of appeal to your employer that addresses the need to make reasonable accommodations to suit you.

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