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The Americans with Disabilities Act for IBS Sufferers

Updated on August 8, 2012


If you are a working person suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn's Disease, or other digestive disease and the problems associated with your condition are causing issues at your job due to excessive lateness, missed work, or over-extended breaks, you may be relieved to learn that you may qualify for a Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Overview of the ADA for Employees with IBS

There is a powerful protection available under federal law for an employee with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) who is concerned that missed time from work is going to put his or her job in danger - the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For employees suffering with IBS and other digestive diseases, the ADA protects against discrimination in the workplace based on a person's disability. This applies not only to hiring and firing, but a broad range of job-related activities. The particular ADA employment protection I am going to discuss here is the Reasonable Accommodation.

A reasonable accommodation is a very valuable tool, because it is meant to be proactive. The reasonable accommodation is a modification to the person's job that will empower the employee to perform his or her essential job duties is spite of the impairment caused by a medical condition - in this case, IBS, Crohn's, or some other digestive disease. There are a number of fact-specific criteria that must be met for an employer to qualify for a reasonable accommodation of his or her employee under the ADA.

First, the employer must be covered by the ADA. All federal agencies, and all state, county and local entities are covered if they have at least 15 employees. Private (non-government) employers are covered if they have at least 15 employees.

The employee must meet the qualifications of the job. That means the employee has the level of education, experience, skill set, certification or licensure required for the position. The employee must also be able to perform the essential job functions without a reasonable accommodation. Notice the employee doesn't have to perform all of the job functions without a reasonable accommodation, just the essential one. This means those duties which are fundamental to the position. The essential functions of the job are determined on made on case-by-case basis, with the focus on that particular job -not the general nature of the work.

A disability under the ADA is a medical condition that substantially limits a major life activity. IBS has the capacity to qualify as a disability under the ADA, because digestive and bowel function are specifically defined by the ADA as major life activities. Sufferers of IBS and other digestive diseases know that symptoms that interfere with work aren't present all the time. Fortunately, an impairment that is episodic, intermittent, or in remission will still be considered a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active e.g. during a flare-up.

There is no strict definition of what constitutes a reasonable accommodation, however, modification to an employee's work schedule is a recognized example. If an IBS sufferer is chronically running late and/or over-extending lunch hours or break-periods due to IBS symptoms, then being able to "flex" one's work schedule to work around flare-ups would be logical accommodation. The accommodation could also take the form of a work schedule that allows time to be made up at the end of the day for lateness, or taken away from lunch-hours or other available break-time. Working extra hours outside of the normal work-day schedule to build up a "bank" of hours to use when necessary (similar to "comp time") would be another possible example. The position could be modified to one that is "performance based" rather than one that is strictly hourly.

Please understand that this is a highly generalized and relatively simplified overview. The ADA is a voluminous and complex set of laws and the determinations are very fact specific. My website (link below) contains a more detailed discussion of the ADA as it pertains to sufferers of IBS and other digestive diseases that are looking to safeguard their employment. I recommend speaking with an employment attorney to discuss your specific set of circumstances.

About the Author

Stan Wojculewski is a practicing attorney living and working in New Jersey. He created and maintains - a site devoted to providing information on employment rights with a focus on the working person suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive diseases.

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