Pressing Questions on Reasonable Accommodations under the ADA and FMLA

XpertHR, Pressing Questions on Reasonable Accommodations under the ADA and FMLA, 17 April 2019. 
Beth Zoller

Navigating employee disability issues and providing reasonable accommodations is often incredibly challenging for employers who must comply with the ADA, FMLA and various state and local laws.

Employers need to thoroughly understand their legal obligations and implement a process for responding to accommodation requests and engaging in the interactive process. In a recent XpertHR webinar, Fox Rothschild attorney Andrew Russell provided helpful tips when it comes to navigating reasonable accommodations to stay compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Webinar participants asked some great questions about some particularly perplexing issues:

What does “regarded as having an impairment” mean?

To be “regarded as” having a physical or mental impairment means an employee or applicant experiences discrimination because of an actual or perceived impairment. An employee does not actually have to have a disability or an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity in order to be protected by the ADA.

Is pregnancy a disability under the ADA?

While a normal pregnancy without complications is not a disability under the ADA, a pregnancy-related impairment, even one arising from a healthy pregnancy (i.e., severe morning sickness, gestational diabetes, lower back pain), may qualify as a disability for purposes of the ADA, triggering the need for reasonable accommodations.

An impairment may also arise from the interaction between pregnancy and an underlying health condition. Be sure to consult relevant state and local laws which also may provide protections for pregnant women and require reasonable accommodations.

Is drug use protected by the ADA?

A person currently using illegal drugs or illegally using controlled substances (i.e., prescription drugs) is not considered disabled under the ADA. Illegal drug use doesn’t include prescription drugs taken under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

Keep in mind some states permit the use of medical marijuana by patients with certain health and medical conditions, and some states permit recreational marijuana use. However, a recovering drug addict may be considered disabled if the individual is in a supervised rehabilitation program or is rehabilitated and no longer using drugs.

Is alcoholism covered by the ADA?

An alcoholic may be protected under the ADA and viewed as an individual with a disability However, an employer may discipline, terminate or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct to such an extent that he or she is not qualified for the position.