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are chemical sensitivies covered by the ADA?

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Multiple chemical sensitivities may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on a disability that affects their life in a major way. If an employer learns that an otherwise qualified employee or applicant has a disability, that employer must make reasonable accommodations for the disabled person, unless making such accommodations would create an undue hardship on the business' operations. The ADA does not make an exhaustive list of disabilities covered. Instead, it provides that a physical or mental disability is something that substantially limits one or more major life activity. Some of the examples the ADA gives for major life activities are

  • caring for oneself
  • performing manual tasks
  • seeing
  • hearing
  • eating
  • sleeping
  • walking
  • standing
  • lifting
  • bending
  • speaking
  • breathing
  • learning
  • reading
  • thinking and concentrating
  • communicating
  • working
  • functions of the immune system
  • normal cell growth
  • functions of the digestive system
  • bowel or bladder
  • neurological functions
  • circulatory functions
  • endocrine functions
  • reproductive functions
How to handle multiple chemical sensitivities disability at work

If any of these above tasks are affected by your multiple chemical sensitivities, then you probably qualify as having a disability under the ADA. In that case, your employer must provide you reasonable accommodations, so long as doing so does not place an undue hardship on the business operations. It would help your case if you yourself could come up with ways your employer could accommodate your disability. Some ideas might include providing surgical masks, latex-free gloves, better ventilation, moving your work station away from irritants, or reassigning you to a parallel position. Some employers simply enforce maintaining a work environment free of pollutants such as fragrances, toxic cleaning agents, pesticides, exhaust fumes, and tobacco smoke. If you're stumped and want some ideas, consult the Job Accommodation Network at 1-800-232-9675, or visit their website at http://www.jan.wvu.edu.

If your multiple chemical sensitivities do qualify under the ADA, you should first talk with your employer. Express your concerns and offer some reasonable ideas of how you could be accommodated. It might help if you have a record of your impairments to show your employer during your discussion. Hopefully, your employer will be familiar with the ADA and willing to help. If not, try talking to your human resources department. Remember that this is where you will be working, and you won't want to create an awkward or hostile work environment for yourself by taking legal action before first talking with your employer. However, if you do talk to both your manager and human resources with no luck, legal action may be your only option, and the ADA protects you from any retaliation your employer makes against you based on your discrimination claims.

What to do if your employer won't listen

File a disability discrimination complaint based on your multiple chemical sensitivities. The ADA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC has numerous offices around the country. File your complaint at the nearest one to your place of employment. For help locating the appropriate EEOC office, call 1-800-669-4000, or for a list of offices and instructions on filing your complaint, visit the EEOC website at www.eeoc.gov. You may want to consider consulting a lawyer who specializes in employment discrimination and labor laws for help filing a claim or to take further civil action.

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