Legal Chat: Accommodating arthritis on the job
I have arthritis and cannot perform certain tasks at work for extended periods. Would my employer be required to accommodate me?
Arthritis can slow the pace at which people work and make it more painful to perform certain duties, but only in extreme cases will this condition qualify as a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or New York State Human Rights Law.
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against workers with a disability, which can be any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual,” the law’s implementing regulation states. In many cases, courts have found that arthritis that is not severe does not substantially limit one or more major life activities. Major life activities include “[c]aring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others and working.”
In Graham v. Three Village Central School District (2013), for example, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York noted that an employee would not be covered by the ADA when his arthritis only limited his “rate and pace of walking.” An employee would likewise not have an ADA-qualifying disability if his arthritis only “caused a noticeable limp and difficulty climbing stairs.” However, in Graham v. Macy’s Inc. (2015), the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that an employee with arthritis, which she claimed prevented her from walking or standing for extended periods of time, “adequately pleaded that [she] is disabled, as that term is defined in the ADA.”
Even though an employee may have a qualifying disability, it is crucial that an employee notify their employer about the need for a reasonable accommodation. Otherwise, as in Graham v. Macy’s Inc., a claim under the ADA may be dismissed if there is no evidence that the employer was notified about the disability or reasonable accommodation request.
Employees who are having difficulty performing certain tasks because of their arthritis, or any potential disability, should consult with an experienced employment law attorney.
Greg T. Rinckey, Esq., is a founding partner at Tully Rinckey PLLC, a full-service law firm located in Colonie. If you would like your legal question or topic answered in the next issue, please call 218-7100 or askthelawyer@1888law 4life.com. The information in this column is not intended as legal advice.