Fired in-law ought to file a complaint

CAN THEY DO THAT?

May 17, 2006|By CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN | CARRIE MASON-DRAFFEN,NEWSDAY

My mother-in-law, who works for a hospital, has suffered from migraines for years. At times, the headaches are so severe that she has to miss work. After she called in sick recently, the company fired her. She had 25 years on the job. She is now a 61-year-old unemployed worker. To make matters worse, she applied for unemployment but was deemed ineligible because the company said her termination was "due to misconduct." Are migraines considered a disability? What recourse does she have?

Your mother-in-law may have some recourse but with some caveats. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act most likely wouldn't cover workers who suffer from migraines, said Lisa Sirkin, supervisory trial attorney in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's New York office.

Generally, workers are considered disabled if their illness impairs major life functions, such as taking care of themselves, walking and talking, she said.

But another scenario she presented might give your mother-in-law some hope.

If she can establish that she has a record of impairments because of the headaches, that she is "perceived" as having a disability, or that she could perform her job with an accommodation, "then she's covered under the ADA," Sirkin said. If it turns out she's covered, then the company may have violated her rights by firing her.

She should call the EEOC at 800-669-4000 for more information. Because there are statutes of limitations for filing a complaint, she should call right away.

Another option: She can check with her state's human rights division. Sirkin said that state laws tend to be "more lenient" regarding disabilities.

It's unfortunate your mother-in-law's long hospital career ended on such a sour note. But it's never too late for a fresh start. She should make every effort to determine if her rights were violated and what remedy she might be entitled to.

carrie.draffen@newsday.com

Carrie Mason-Draffen writes for Newsday.

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