More than 10 percent of adults in the United States suffer from asthma. Asthma is an inflammation of the lungs’ airways, and can range in severity from so slight a person is unaware of its presence; the only sign being a persistent cough, to fatal asthma attacks that completely close an individual’s airways. The most common symptoms of asthma are tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, wheezing, and coughing. These symptoms are often exacerbated by, or stem directly from a person’s work environment. It is estimated that around 11 million workers are exposed to at least one substance that causes asthma symptoms in their workplace – such as limited air flow, presence of dust and other irritants, second hand smoke, or a colleague’s heavy perfume, all of which can aggravate asthma symptoms and permanently affect a person’s health.

Persons that suffer from asthma are considered disabled under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and are protected from workplace discrimination. This stems from the definition of “disabled” under the ADA. An individual is considered to have a “disability” under the ADA if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Courts have rightfully held that breathing is a major life activity. Discrimination against persons with a disability can occur at any time in the employment process; from pre-employment through dismissal. Employers may perceive individual’s with asthma as having the potential for chronic health problems, or may view the presence of asthma as a limiting condition. This may influence an employer to make a hiring decision based on these perceptions, in violation of employment law. Once hired, chronic, as well as, acute asthma attacks can sometimes make it difficult to attend work, and irritants in the workplace may force someone to leave work early unexpectedly. These difficulties can cause problems at work. Additionally, an employee may complain about the presence of irritants, and thereby the desire for an employer to take action with regard to the irritant. Unanswered complaints can often cause other difficulties at work, such as various tactics used by employers to “push” an employee out by effectuating a material adverse change in working conditions. Adverse changes include changing the method of task assignment, reduction in responsibilities given, and advancement potential. All of which may give rise to an inference of unlawful discrimination. If an employee is [suffering] from a disability, but is still qualified to perform the essential function of the position with reasonable accommodation – the employer is obligated to provide such accommodation.

As discussed above, individuals that suffer from Asthma and have Asthmatic symptoms are considered disabled and are protected by the ADA, and should seek a reasonable accommodation from their employer. This is regardless if the Asthma is chronic, narrows the airways or results in coughing or wheezing. Persons on Long Island, in either Nassau of Suffolk counties, suffering from asthma who request reasonable accommodations, which are not provided, or who experience disability discrimination in the workplace, should contact a New York disability employment attorney.

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