Arthritis is characterized by the swelling and inflammation of joints. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA), which arises from normal wear and tear put on the joints over the course of an individual’s lifetime, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is an autoimmune disorder and can occur at any time in an individual’s life. However, arthritis can also be associated with gout, psoriasis, and lupus. Symptoms of OA, which plagues almost 50 million Americans each year, include deep aching pain, difficult dressing, sitting or bending, and grasping objects, morning stiffness, swelling of the joints, joints being warm to the touch, pain when walking, and loss of motion in certain joints. The symptoms of RA are often more severe than OA. RA can come on gradually, or arise suddenly, resulting in pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, and stiffness that can last for many hours. During flare-ups, stiffness of the joints can be so severe, as to cause immobility. Additionally, persistent joint swelling can interfere with daily life activities, such as driving, walking, and working, or cause twisting and deformation of the joints.
Unfortunately, individuals suffering from OA, RA and other forms of arthritis experience discrimination in the workplace. Employers may perceive these individuals as having the potential for continued illness, requiring time off, or other accommodations and may engage in unlawful, discriminatory conduct. While arthritis is a persistent, chronic condition, it is often treatable and very manageable, making it possible for individuals suffering with any form of arthritis to remain in the workforce. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals against discriminatory conduct when they are considered “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA. An individual is considered “disabled” under the ADA when a physical or mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities of the individual. Further, unlawful discrimination occurs when an employer is aware of such an impairment, or the employee is perceived to have such an impairment and an employer takes adverse employment action. Adverse employment action can be outright dismissal, change in position which effectively results in a demotion, or change in responsibilities effectuating a demotion without a change in title, creation of a hostile work environment to encourage an employee to quit, or continually failing to promote. Similarly, individuals suffering from arthritis may be denied reasonable accommodations at work. All forms of arthritis have the potential to affect how an individual performs on the job, or the ability to complete the essential functions of his or her position without accommodation. However, if an employee is “disabled” within the meaning of the ADA, and is able to complete the essential functions of his or her position with reasonable accommodation, the employer is required to provide such accommodations.
Persons suffering from osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or any other form of arthritis that substantially limits one or more major life activities, are considered disabled under the ADA and are therefore entitled to protection against discrimination. If you live in the metro New York area, including Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan, or on Long Island and have experienced discrimination in the workplace because of your heart disease or related conditions, you should contact a New York disability attorney.