Employment & Kidney Disease - Can You Ask For Special Accommodations?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients are sometimes the victims of medical malpractice, and when they are, they’ll need the advice and services of an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A misdiagnosis, a wrong prescription, or a surgical mistake can dramatically and negatively impact a CKD patient’s health, and when that happens, that patient is entitled to compensation – and to justice. Medical malpractice, however, is not always the only legal concern that a CKD patient has to face. Kidney disease patients who want to remain in the workforce sometimes encounter employment discrimination.

Chronic kidney disease is usually managed rather than cured. When CKD is diagnosed early and accurately, progress from the early stages to advanced kidney disease can be slowed, and most CKD patients are able to avoid the need for kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant. When CKD patients adhere to the advice of their doctors, most are able to maintain normal lives, keep their jobs, and manage CKD with only minor inconveniences.

Still, thousands in the United States are living with kidney failure. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about 430,000 people in the U.S. are on kidney dialysis, and approximately 185,000 have received a kidney transplant. For decades, disability rights advocates have acted to protect the rights of working people who struggle with chronic diseases and other disabilities. Those rights are now safeguarded by a number of important federal laws.

WHAT LAWS PROTECT WORKERS WITH CHRONIC DISEASES?

The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provide substantial legal protections to working persons who struggle with chronic diseases and other disabling conditions. These federal statutes also spell out the guidelines for employer compliance. The law makes it easier for anyone who is struggling with CKD to stay in the work force and to live a more-or-less normal life.

Of course, if you are back at work after a kidney transplant or after beginning dialysis, you and your employer may have to make some reasonable and slight adjustments. Your schedule may need to be re-arranged for dialysis treatments. Continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis patients may require a private and sterile area.

Some CKD patients may simply need less strenuous responsibilities. Federal law requires employers to make “reasonable” accommodations. You may feel reticent about asking for something special. Don’t. Reasonable accommodations are your right.

Thousands of CKD patients, dialysis patients, and transplant recipients work part time or full time throughout the United States. Others pursue their educations, raise their children, and volunteer in their communities. Many who start dialysis or receive a transplant want to work and want to return to their everyday routines as soon as possible. Others may need some time off to adjust to kidney dialysis or to recuperate from surgery.

Either way, if you need for your employer to make one or more reasonable accommodations, you need to ask your employer for those accommodations. Most employers know the law and are prepared to comply, but your employer cannot know what you need until you ask. Your employer also may not know that employers can earn tax credits by making certain accommodations to the workplace.

WHAT DOES THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT REQUIRE?

There may also be questions about your health benefits. If your employer seems worried or confused, your doctor or someone else providing your healthcare can probably provide the details about your illness and abilities that will relieve your employer’s concerns.

If your employer is a business with fifteen or more employees, your employer is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make reasonable accommodations that employees may need, such as:

  • allowing for flexible schedules if possible
  • reassigning a worker to less strenuous work if it is available
  • providing handicapped access to rest rooms, parking areas, and work areas
  • reassigning some of your tasks to others

If you work for at least twenty weeks in a year for an employer with fifty or more employees, you may be eligible for leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows up to twelve weeks of job-protected but unpaid leave for medical reasons. Employers may request medical documentation verifying an employee’s kidney disease and condition, but an employee cannot be penalized for taking medical leave that the employee is entitled to by law. Immediate family members of CKD patients are entitled to the same leave if they need that time off to care for their family member.

If you believe that you are a victim of employment discrimination because of your kidney disease and accommodation needs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that you should first go through whatever procedures the company has established.

Usually, this involves filing a written grievance detailing the discrimination and submitting a copy to management or the HR department. Union members should take their complaints to their locals. Always make and keep copies of your complaint, any responses to it, and any other pertinent documents.

CAN CKD PATIENTS RECEIVE DISABILITY BENEFITS?

When someone can’t work because of chronic kidney disease, disability benefits may be available. The Federal government offers Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSDI provides monthly benefits when someone is unable to work for at least a year due to a disability. The amount of the benefit depends on your work history and your previous Social Security payments. SSI benefits, however, are based on financial need.

Whether you are managing chronic kidney disease in its early stages, dealing with kidney dialysis, or living with a transplanted kidney, your life is full of potential legal challenges and obstacles when you have a kidney disease. Employment discrimination is one of those challenges. Obtaining benefits is another. Don’t hesitate to reach out for an attorney’s help to deal with either of these challenges.

Medical malpractice is also more common than you might think, and CKD sufferers are the frequent victims of medical negligence. If you believe that you are a victim of medical malpractice as a chronic kidney disease patient, let an experienced medical malpractice attorney review the particulars of your case, explain your rights, and provide the sound legal advice you need.

By: Jed Kurzban

Medical malpractice attorney Jed Kurzban graduated from the University of Alabama in 1992 and earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law in 1995. He is a member of the Dade County Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the American Association for Justice, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, and the American Bar Association. Mr. Kurzban is happily married and the father of two.