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Articles Posted in Disability/Handicap Discrimination

Long and short-term disability insurance policies in Massachusetts can offer income protection when a medical problem renders you unable to work, but these policies don’t protect against job loss. Receiving disability benefits does not automatically prevent you from being terminated. However, certain situations do.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA is a federal law that provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for personal medical issues, or to take care of an immediate family member who is ill. FMLA is often used as a type of maternity leave. Not all businesses are subject to FMLA, however. In order for FMLA to be applicable, the company must have at least 50 employees. Many people use FMLA in conjunction with short-term disability insurance, which covers at least a portion of their lost income. Some people with chronic disabilities utilize FMLA every year.

If you are on FMLA leave, you cannot be terminated unless you are absent from work beyond the 12-week period. Upon your return from FMLA leave, you must be given your former position, or one that is similar. But keep in mind, even exceeding the 12-week period by one day puts you at risk of termination. This has no bearing on short-term disability insurance benefits, however. A MA employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been been the victim of disability discrimination in the workplace.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Under the ADA, it is illegal to terminate an employee due to a covered disability. This applies to employees who are currently on disability leave. The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Businesses with 15 or more employees are subject to the ADA and are required by law to make, or offer to make, reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability. The only exception occurs when doing so would cause “undue hardship” for the employer. The employee must inform the employer of the disability, however, and allow reasonable time to make the requested accommodation.

What’s a Reasonable Accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation can be the installation of a wheelchair ramp or Braille signage, desk modification, or the restructuring of the employee’s schedule or job duties. These are just a few examples. If it is shown that the necessary accommodations will cause the employer undue hardship, or that none exist to support the employee in that particular job, the employee can be legally terminated. However, the way in which the termination is handled is equally important. Before firing an employee due to disability, the employer must work with the employee to try multiple options. A Boston employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been unlawfully terminated due to a disability.

To recap, employees can be fired while on disability if they exceed their 12 annual weeks of FMLA leave, or if they are unable to perform the essential functions of their job after reasonable accommodations have been made. If you feel that you are being discriminated against due to your disability, it is in your best interest to save any correspondence you have with your employer. This could be highly useful if you decide to file a lawsuit. Continue reading

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