Your Employee Has Migraines and Cannot Work. But Is She Disabled?
Posted: December 29, 2011
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits covered employers from discriminating against job applicants and employees on the basis of a disability. Does an employee's migraine constitute "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities"?
A recent case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit charged the court with answering whether or not work should be considered a major life activity. Alethia Roselle Allen, a former medical assistant at SouthCrest Hospital (SouthCrest) in Tulsa, OK, claimed to suffer from migraines strong enough to keep her out of work from time to time. Allen further testified that she had had only one migraine prior to her tenure at SouthCrest and that they had subsided after she had resigned.
According to the court, Ms. Allen did not have a claim under the ADA. "To be disabled in the major life activity of working, an employee must be significantly restricted in the ability to perform either a class of jobs or a broad range of jobs in various classes." The court emphasized that the foregoing holds true under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), which took effect on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA's Interpretive Guidance (here) explains that the limitations in the performance of a "single specific job is not sufficient to establish that a person is substantially limited in the major life activity of working."
So, are you, as an employer, now able to tell an employee to get back to work if she complains of a migraine? No. Depending on its severity, the migraine may actually limit her ability to perform a broad range of jobs or even impact other major major life activities. Play it safe; engage in an interactive dialogue with the employee. Attempt to arrive at a reasonable accommodation that will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Also, if the migraine is severe enough, it could be considered a "serious health condition" and trigger the employer's obligations under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Want to know more? Read the full article by Eric B. Meyer at The Employer Handbook