Consider More Than An Employee’s Underlying Condition Under the Americans With Disabilities Act: Treatment For the Condition Could Also Create A Disability


Employers generally are familiar with the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of an individual’s major life activities. Employers typically focus on the employee’s diagnosed medical or mental health condition when trying to determine if an employee suffers from a disability that would require accommodation under the ADA. Recent decisions in the federal appellate courts suggest, however, that employers should also consider the side effects from treatment for an impairment when assessing whether an employee has a disability. Those cases suggest that side effects from treatment could constitute a disability, regardless of whether the underlying condition would be a disability.

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided such a case. In Sulima v. Tobyhanna Army Depot, a morbidly obese employee with sleep apnea brought a discrimination claim against his employer under the ADA. On appeal, he did not claim that his obesity or his apnea constituted a disability. Rather, his alleged impairment was based solely on a disorder or condition resulting from the medication used to treat his medical conditions. To put it delicately, the employee’s medication caused gastrointestinal difficulties that required him to spend inordinately long periods in the restroom, rather than attending to his job duties.

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