For many years, people who were diagnosed with sickle cell were denied the basic rights and fair treatment that every citizen deserves solely because of their medical condition.

Today, however, a federal law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) provides a legal course of action that people can use to rectify discrimination they may have faced for having sickle cell.

Therefore, it is important to know what rights you have under the ADA in order to ensure that you are receiving the type of fair treatment that you deserve.

What Protections Do I Have under the ADA?

The ADA is meant to prohibit employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities for every aspect of the employment process, not just firing and hiring. This includes prohibiting discrimination in:

  • Promotions or demotions;
  • Payments;
  • Job applications;
  • Training opportunities;
  • Interviews and any necessary performance tests (e.g., grammar or word processing tests);
  • Transfers;
  • Sick leave, vacation days, and other various reasons for time-off; and/or
  • Layoffs.

The above list is only an example of some of the aspects of the employment process that are protected by the ADA. This means that if an employee has experienced discrimination due to sickle cell and their employer has 15 or more employees, then the ADA will most likely provide a basis for them to bring a claim.

Does Having Sickle Cell Mean that I Have a Disability?

Under the ADA, the term “disability” is defined in one of the following three ways:

  • An individual who has a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities (e.g., walking, eating, speaking, breathing, etc.);
  • Having a record that proves they have been diagnosed with such a condition; or
  • Being perceived as having a physical or mental impairment.

In other words, if having sickle cell prevents a person from doing basic daily activities (e.g., hearing, seeing, or communicating), then the law will consider them to have a disability based on their disease. Although numerous examples have been provided, the law is quite vague regarding what counts as a “major life activity.” Therefore, its protection can extend to almost any type of impairment.

Some other major activities that have not been mentioned yet include performing manual labor, lifting objects, sleeping, being able to care for oneself, working, having sex, thinking, and reading. Again, these are just some examples of the kinds of activities that the law will most likely cover. As such, if a person suffers from a condition that substantially impairs any of these actions, then they will probably be protected by the ADA.

It should be noted that an employee or job applicant who has sickle cell disease will still be covered by the ADA regardless of whether or not the disease has had a major impact on their daily activities or if it only affects their life in a minor way and is fully controlled. This means that even if a person is able to manage their symptoms, an employer cannot discriminate against them for having sickle cell.

The reason for this is because the law recognizes a person with sickle cell as having a disability, despite the fact that they may appear to be healthy.

Should I Tell My Employer That I Have Sickle Cell?

This is an extremely difficult and personal question to answer. Thus, it may depend on an individual’s personal preference. Legally, an employer is not allowed to ask about a medical condition or about the results of a condition (e.g., they cannot ask how much sick leave an employee usually requests or what type of medications they are taking).

In fact, the only scenarios in which an employer may be able to ask about a condition is if they have a legitimate reason to believe that an employee’s health is posing a direct threat to their own safety (meaning the employee’s) or the safety of others.
They can also ask about it if an employee has put in a request for a particular kind of accommodation and they need to know why. Additionally, they may inquire about how it affects an individual’s capacity to do the job.

It is also important to note that the law does not provide any explicit requirements that force a person to discuss their medical issues. However, the ADA will only offer protections to those employees who an employer knows are disabled.

A helpful tip that may offer extra protection is to make sure that the person can educate others about the disease or if they can show that their quality of life is essentially the same as anyone else.

The main thing to keep in mind is that no one can legally take any discriminatory action towards someone because they have a disability. Thus, whether a person should tell their employer or not is completely and totally up to them.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA?

If an employee qualifies as being disabled under the ADA, then their employer will be required to make reasonable accommodations in order to help them do their job. The only reason an employer will not be required to supply reasonable accommodations is if doing so would cause “undue hardship.”

The phrase “undue hardship” is defined as an act that causes significant difficulties or would be expensive to complete, when weighed against other business factors.

For instance, a company may fulfill a request to provide a special desk or chair that can ease the pain affecting a person’s extremities. An employer may also permit the employee to have a flexible schedule to accommodate their medical conditions or related symptoms.

As long as it does not cost too much and/or place a burden on work productivity, an employer must do everything in their power that they can to help a disabled employee according to the law.

Lastly, it will be up to a court to decide what exactly qualifies as an “undue hardship”, and this decision will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Sickle Cell Discrimination Issues?

Despite the legal protections offered by the ADA and other anti-discrimination laws, disability discrimination is still an issue in today’s workplace. Therefore, if you believe that you or a loved one has been discriminated against by an employer because of sickle cell, then you should contact a local discrimination attorney for further legal guidance.

An experienced discrimination attorney will be able to determine whether you have a valid claim and can help you prepare a case. Your attorney can also discuss the potential remedies that you can receive if your case is successful and can provide representation in court if necessary.

Additionally, you may also want to hire an attorney if you suspect that your employer has leaked information about your condition to other people. In this instance, you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible because you will only have a limited amount of time (usually within 180 days) to file your claim.