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Multiple Sclerosis, Employment, and the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability — in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telephone services. When it comes to employment, the ADA basically says that personnel decisions — hiring, promoting, and firing — must be made without regard to a person’s disability status.

This means that the provisions of the ADA are your best legal protection on the job. That being said, the ADA isn’t a bulletproof vest, so you need to proceed with care.

One of the key provisions of the ADA requires any employer with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified workers who have disabilities that make it possible for them to perform their essential job functions.

However, remember that not all employers are covered by this law. For example, the federal government isn’t required to comply with the ADA employment provisions because it’s prohibited from discriminating against employees with disabilities by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

To help you make sense of these laws and terms, consider the following definitions:

  • A disability is any impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (seeing, hearing, walking, working, reading, and so on).

  • An accommodation is a modification that makes it possible for a person with a disability to apply or test for a job and perform the major functions of the job. Here are examples of accommodations that could be made for a person with MS:

    • Altering the job application or testing procedures to accommodate a person’s fatigue or mobility problems

    • Providing special equipment, such as air conditioning for someone with heat sensitivity or adaptive computer software for someone with a vision problem

    • Creating a flexible work schedule, such as allowing for telecommuting, part-time schedules, or rest periods during the day

    • Modifying the office space or bathrooms to make room for a motorized scooter

    • Providing a parking space close to the office entrance

  • A reasonable accommodation is one that doesn’t cause the employer undue hardship. In other words, the employer is expected to make every effort to meet the employee’s needs unless the accommodation would be too expensive or disruptive for the business. In reality, most accommodations requested by people with MS aren’t particularly costly.

  • Essential job functions are the key activities in a particular job. They’re the functions that require special expertise and that are specifically written into the job description.

Even though employers are required to make reasonable accommodations, they aren’t required to lower the standards that exist for all employees, eliminate important job functions, or provide accommodations that would hurt the business in a significant way. If you’re unable to perform the essential functions of the job, even with reasonable accommodations, an employer can terminate your employment.

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