Originally published on wearcapable.org
Do I have to disclose my disability to my employer? What accommodations am I entitled to request? Can I be paid less because of my reasonable accommodation? So many questions might arise as you go through the employment process. Living with chronic illness or disability, means constantly navigating barriers set by a society that was not built for us. Chronically Capable was built with the aim of removing some of those barriers and creating a society that values and makes space for our differences.
At Chronically Capable, we know that equality means a lot more than just inclusive hiring. Equality means working for a company where you don’t have to hide your illness or fight for equal opportunities, a company where you know you are seen and valued. Equality means equal pay, paid sick leave and flexible working hours. Equality means companies that work with, instead of against you to create the most accessible work environment so that your talents can shine. Equality means a welcoming and inclusive work culture. Equality means workplaces where disability is embraced, instead of just tolerated. That’s why we not only created a jobsite platform that chooses employers who embrace disability, but we are also committed to continue educating those employers on inclusivity and accessibility.
We want to walk you through the employment process and give you and your employer tools to create the best possible employment environment and experience. So here are some facts about your employment rights and how to use them to work with your employer to navigate the workplace with disability.
The Americans With Disabilities Act:
As a chronically ill or disabled jobseeker or employee, there are a number of different laws that protect you. The main legal protection is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. If you have a disability, which is classified under the ADA as any impairment that substantially limits a major life activity or major bodily function, you are protected by this law. Even if your impairment is episodic, like many chronic illnesses tend to be, or in remission, you can still declare yourself disabled under the law if your impairment limits a major life activity when active!
This law entitles you to reasonable accommodations which are defined by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as “any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities”. Reasonable accommodations can include anything from time in your schedule for doctors appointments, a desk that fits a wheelchair, or a work environment that is fragrance free. You can find a more extensive list of accommodation ideas here. If you work for any of the following organizations, you are covered by this law: private employers with over 15 employees, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations and labor management committees.
Additional Anti Discrimination Laws:
Other legal protections for disabled people in the work place include the Rehab Act of 1973, outlawing discrimination on basis of disability within the federal governemnt, and Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protecting employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and disability.
Sick Leave Laws:
We know equality goes beyond outlawing discrimination. Living with complex medical conditions sometimes requires flexible hours or time off work for treatments and recovery. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for reasons including serious health conditions. This law applies to employees who have worked at least 12 months for at least 1,250 hours at public agencies, private employers with over 50 employees, and all elementary and secondary schools. Although the FMLA does not require paid sick leave, some states have laws requiring paid sick leave or statewide temporary disability insurance laws that provide partial pay replacement to workers needing time off for injury, illness etc. Of course this is the bare minimum and we encourage employers to work with their chronically ill employees to find a schedule that works with their treatment and recovery.
The ADA in Action:
During the job application process you are entitled under the ADA to request reasonable accommodations for the job application itself or for the interview process. You do not have to disclose your disability to the employer you are applying with, even if you will need accommodations once hired, you are not required to let the employer know that in advance.
Once hired, you are entitled to reasonable accommodations and equal pay. An employer cannot pay you less because of your reasonable accommodation or disability. As long as you are qualified to “perform the essential functions and duties of the job”, according to the EEOC, your disability should not affect the employers hiring or firing decisions. If you feel you have been discriminated against or your employer is challenging your reasonable accommodations you can either work with your employer to resolve the conflict or file a complaint with the EEOC.
Creating a more accessible and inclusive work environment is an ongoing learning process for most businesses and requires regular education and awareness to make sure that these legal protections are applied in the most helpful way.