Sickle cell discrimination refers to the unfair treatment and denial of basic rights that individuals diagnosed with sickle cell disease have faced over the years due to their medical condition.
Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers a legal course of action for those experiencing discrimination related to sickle cell disease. Read on to understand more about your rights under the ADA and ensure you are treated fairly.
What Protections Do I Have Under the ADA?
The ADA offers protections against discrimination for people with disabilities throughout the employment process including the following:
- Job applications
- Training opportunities
- Performance tests
- Sick leave
- Vacation days
- Other reasons for time-off
If an employee with sickle cell disease experiences discrimination and their employer has 15 or more employees, the ADA likely provides a basis for a claim.
Does Having Sickle Cell Mean That I Have a Disability?
Under the ADA, sickle cell disease is considered a disability if it significantly limits one or more major life activities, if there is a record of such a condition, or if you are perceived as having a physical or mental impairment.
- Major life activities encompass a wide range of activities, including:
- Manual labor
- Lifting objects
The ADA protects people with sickle cell disease regardless of the severity or control of their symptoms.
For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire or promote someone with sickle cell disease simply because of their disability, even if they experience symptoms such as pain, fatigue, or reduced mobility that may affect their ability to perform certain job tasks.
Suppose the person can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. In this case, the employer must provide those accommodations, such as flexible work hours, ergonomic equipment, or modified job duties.
Additionally, the employer cannot harass or retaliate against the employee for asserting their rights under the ADA. For instance, suppose an employee with sickle cell disease requests a reasonable accommodation, such as a modified work schedule due to their symptoms. The employer cannot deny that request without first engaging in an interactive process to determine whether the accommodation is reasonable and effective.
If the employer refuses to provide a reasonable accommodation or takes adverse employment action against the employee because of their sickle cell disease. In that case, the employee may have grounds to file a discrimination claim under the ADA.
Should I Tell My Employer That I Have Sickle Cell?
Deciding whether to disclose your sickle cell disease to your employer is a personal choice.
Legally, employers cannot ask about a medical condition or its impact unless they have a legitimate reason to believe it directly threatens the employee’s or others’ safety or if they need the information to accommodate a disability.
While disclosure is not explicitly required, the ADA protects employees whose employers know about their disability. Educating others about the disease and showing that it does not significantly impact your quality of life may offer additional protection.
Suppose you choose to disclose your sickle cell disease to your employer. In that case, you may choose to also educate your coworkers about the disease, including how it affects you and what accommodations you may need to perform your job. By doing so, you can help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes about the disease and demonstrate that your condition does not significantly impact your ability to perform your job duties.
This education and advocacy can also help protect you against potential discrimination or harassment. If coworkers or managers understand your condition and the accommodations you need, they may be less likely to engage in discriminatory behavior or create a hostile work environment.
What Are Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA?
If an employee qualifies as disabled under the ADA, employers must make reasonable accommodations to help them perform their job unless doing so would cause “undue hardship.”
Undue hardship refers to actions causing significant difficulties or expenses when balanced against other business factors.
Examples of accommodations include the following:
- Modifying equipment or devices: Providing ergonomic keyboards, adjusting the height of desks, or providing specialized tools to make tasks easier for employees with mobility or dexterity limitations.
- Altering work hours or location: Allowing flexible schedules, telecommuting, or modifying work hours to accommodate medical appointments or treatments.
- Job restructuring: Modifying job duties or responsibilities, reassigning tasks, or reducing workload to accommodate medical limitations.
- Providing assistive technology: Providing hearing aids, screen readers, or specialized software to enable employees with disabilities to perform their job duties.
- Making physical modifications to the workplace: Installing wheelchair ramps, widening doorways, or modifying restrooms to make them accessible.
- Providing support services: Providing sign language interpreters, readers, or personal assistants to employees with disabilities.
- Offering leave or modified leave policies: Providing additional unpaid leave for medical treatments or offering flexible return-to-work policies for employees recovering from a medical condition.
An employee with sickle cell disease may require a modified work schedule to accommodate medical appointments or treatments, a specialized chair or desk to accommodate their physical limitations, or the ability to take breaks to manage pain or fatigue. An employee with a hearing impairment may require assistive technology such as a hearing aid or a sign language interpreter to communicate effectively in the workplace.
Employers are required to make these accommodations as long as they do not impose excessive costs or burden work productivity.
Courts will determine what qualifies as an “undue hardship” on a case-by-case basis. The courts will consider factors such as the employer’s size and financial resources, the business’s nature, and the specific accommodations requested.
For example, providing a specialized piece of equipment or allowing a flexible work schedule may not impose an undue hardship on a large corporation with substantial resources. However, it may be an undue hardship on a small business with limited resources, or that requires strict scheduling for its operations.
Similarly, an accommodation that fundamentally alters the nature of the business may be considered an undue hardship. For example, an employer that requires all employees to work on-site may not be able to accommodate a request for telecommuting as it would fundamentally alter the nature of the business.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help With Sickle Cell Discrimination Issues?
Despite legal protections under the ADA and anti-discrimination laws, disability discrimination persists in today’s workplace. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against by an employer because of sickle cell, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance from a local discrimination attorney.
An experienced attorney can assess the validity of your claim, help you prepare your case, and discuss potential remedies if your case is successful. If necessary, they can also represent you in court.
In cases where you suspect your employer has disclosed your condition to others, it’s essential to act quickly and speak with an attorney. You typically have a limited window of time (usually within 180 days) to file a claim.
LegalMatch is an online legal service that can help you connect with a local discrimination attorney who handles cases related to disability discrimination in the workplace, including sickle cell discrimination.
To use LegalMatch, you simply need to submit a brief summary of your situation, and then LegalMatch will match you with attorneys with experience in handling similar cases. You can then review their profiles and choose the attorney that best fits your needs.
Use LegalMatch to find a discrimination lawyer today.