Worker afflicted with eye disease may be protected

Ask the professors

Help Wanted

October 12, 2005|By ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE AND MICHAEL HAYES

I recently joined a non- profit medical professional association as an intern. I have since been diagnosed with a chronic eye disease that requires vigilant management. I miss two days of work every two months and I do not receive paid time off. I interpret my employer's silence as lack of interest in pursuing permanent employment, although the boss responded two months ago that he is working on it. At what point should I inform a potential employer that I must be off work every two months for treatments? My vision is correctable at this time and my work is not at risk.

N.G., Columbia

Employers with 50 or more workers are bound by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants "eligible employees" the right to take up to 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period for treatment of a serious health condition. Employers with more than 15 employees may also have obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That law requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" to disabled employees.

You are under no legal obligation to inform prospective employers of your eye disease, and the ADA makes it illegal for an employer to inquire whether you have a disability. However, if you want an employer to grant the days off, you should give at least a few weeks' advance notice.

Many employers make real efforts to give fair consideration to applicants with disabilities and health challenges, but unfortunately some fall short. You might not always get a fair shake in the hiring process if the employer knows about your situation. If you are still interested in a permanent job at the nonprofit, don't assume a lack of interest on its part. Many people leave issues on the back burner until presented with a reason why they should do otherwise.

ELLEN KABCENELL WAYNE assistant professor of negotiations and conflict management and MICHAEL HAYES associate professor of law

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