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Avoiding Disability Liabilities

Handicapped person in a wheelchair.

Here at the IC/ISP Network, we want you to stay prepared for anything that comes your way, so you don’t have to worry about claims or liabilities. We want to keep your insurance premium as low as possible! Today we’d like to briefly discuss the rights of disabled employees, so that you don’t make any mistakes in the future.

What is a Disability?

There is a fine line of what is and what is not considered a disability. Some are permanent, and a bit more obvious, but at the same time, some are only temporary, and it’s hard to tell if the person is actually disabled or simply injured. It can be even more difficult to tell if someone has a mental disability, as the person may not show any outward signs of being disabled. Here’s a list of the most commonly known disabilities so you can get an idea of who could potentially be protected:

  • Autism
  • Chronic/Psychological/Mental Illnesses (Anxiety, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Autism, Asperger’s Bipolar, Alcohol/Drug Addiction, Organic Brain Syndrome, Panic Attacks)
  • Vision Loss or Blindness
  • Hearing Loss or Deafness
  • Learning Disability or Memory Loss
  • Physical Disability
  • Speech or Language Disorders
  • Cardiovascular disorders (Heart Failure, Coronary Artery Disease, High Blood Pressure)
  • Disorders of the Digestive System, Endocrine System, or Genitourinary Systems
  • Miscellaneous – Chronic Pain, Chronic Migraines
  • Musculoskeletal Impairments
  • Cancer
  • Neurological Disorders (Seizures, Strokes, Traumatic Brain Injury)
  • Respiratory Disorders (Sleep Apnea, Emphysema, Asthma)

Why is this all so Important?

From what we have heard, you could be at a severe risk if you don’t educate yourself on disabilities. If you fire someone, or even refuse to hire someone, based on the knowledge that they have a disability, then you could face the consequences. If you’re considering terminating an employee because of a disability, the proper solution is to accommodate the employee in their work so that their disability does not hold them back. An example of a reasonable accommodation would be to an allow an employee to do their job without a computer, if possible, if the employee were seizure prone. Accommodations like this one must be deemed “reasonable” or “unreasonable” on a case by case basis, so use proper judgement.  The only case in which you could terminate a disabled employee is if the courts agreed that it was completely unreasonable to accommodate them. Remember, you can’t specifically ask about their disabilities during the interview process; the only way you can know if they’re disabled is if they volunteered the information themselves. If there is ever any question of what could be considered a disability, be sure to look it up to make sure you don’t make a mistake. Generally speaking, an employee is protected (according to the Americans with Disabilities Act) based on:

  • a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits” one or more “major life activities”
  • a record of such an impairment
  • a person is regarded as having such an impairment

Remember, it is reasonable to terminate a disabled employee on an “at-will” basis for reasons such as disobeying the orders of a signed employee handbook or failure to meet job responsibilities and requirements. Just make sure you’re absolutely positive that the termination has nothing to do with the employee’s disability. Be careful of wrongful termination, or refusal to hire for that matter, and always try to accommodate your employees with disabilities if it’s possible. We hate to see our customers face claims and liabilities, so make sure you follow all of the proper legal standards when it comes to dealing with employees with disabilities.

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