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Disability Discrimination and Chronic Illness

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that around 6 in 10 people in the U.S. have some form of chronic illness, and as many as 4 in 10 have two or more. However, too many people face discrimination and mistreatment while trying to work and maintain their health at the same time. Employers have an obligation to try and find reasonable accommodation for disabled employees, and a failure to do so can be actionable. If you believe that you have experienced disability discrimination due to chronic illness, investigating your options is a good idea.

Discrimination Is Still Common

Chronic illnesses can be mental or physical, and can have a devastating effect on a person’s life. While not all of them will qualify as disabilities for legal purposes, many do, which in turn puts those who are disabled under the protection of both the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the South Carolina Human Affairs Law (HAL). Both of these laws prohibit employment discrimination based on disability at any point in the employment process, from hiring to firing, as long as the employer or potential employer has at least 15 employees (the law does not apply to smaller companies as of this writing).

Despite these protections, unfortunately, companies still find ways to discriminate against disabled occupants—especially those with chronic conditions. Companies simply do not call back applicants who disclose disabilities, likely because they fear accommodation costs or wrongly persist in the belief that no disabled applicant can be a good employee. For every disabled person who is able to enter the workforce, three to four leave because they cannot be accommodated. This applies even more to those with chronic conditions, who have even more opportunity to slip through the proverbial cracks.

Accommodations Must Be Available

If the ADA applies to your employer, they have an obligation to try and make reasonable accommodations for disabled and chronically ill employees. “Reasonable” can have different meanings for different people, but any accommodation that is not an undue burden for your employer while assisting you with your work will generally fall under that umbrella. Examples may include allowing an employee to take leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), providing a sign language interpreter, or allowing breaks to mitigate disability-related fatigue.

It is important to understand that while an employer is required to make accommodations for a qualified employee, the key word is “qualified.” If there ever comes a point where you are unable to carry out your job, the law may allow them to terminate you as long as they can show that lack of performance is the reason, rather than your disability. In practice, though, too many employers terminate disabled employees for being “burdensome” and hide behind the smokescreen of poor performance.

Contact A South Carolina Employment Discrimination Attorney

If you believe that you have experienced disability discrimination due to chronic illness, contacting a South Carolina employment discrimination attorney from the firm of Hitchcock & Potts can be your first step toward being made whole. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has handled many of these cases, and is ready to handle yours. Contact our offices today to set up a consultation.

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