6 Tips to Protect Your Illinois and Federal Employment Disability Rights

What You Should Know About Illinois Disabled Workers Rights

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What Is A Disability

Disabilities come in all forms – invisible and visible – from the more common disabilities like anxiety, diabetes and asthma to the less common like epilepsy, narcolepsy and many more.

According to AskJan.org:

The definition of disability is an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

Did you know only 35% of Illinois workers with disabilities actually have jobs, compared to 75% of Illinois workers without disabilities?

It’s important for all Illinois workers to have equal access to work as long as they work to earn a paycheck and a sense of accomplishment.

6 Tips to Protect Your Illinois Employment Disability Rights 

If you are disabled and believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace, you have rights!

It is illegal to harass an applicant or employee because:

  • He or she has a disability
  • He or she had a disability in the past
  • He or she is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).

Read the 6 tips below (not legal advice) to help you manage work and your disability.

Tip 1 – Request a Reasonable Accommodation, No Magic Words Recorded

If you need to, have no shame asking your employer for a reasonable accommodation. Your employer must engage in a good faith interactive active process. Simply put: You job must discuss this with you, and cannot simply say “Nope” to your request.   There are no magic words needed.  If you don’t know what to say, simply contact your human resources team or your manager and communicate that:

  • You need help
  • Detail the help you think you need

For example, if your job title is “Cashier” and you have diabetes, your request might be:

Hi HR.  I need time to check my blood sugar.  Can I take a break as needed to do so?

Tip 2 – Put the Request in Writing

To protect yourself, request the help you need in writing – via email, memo, company chat or text message.  If you make the request verbally and have a dispute later, your employer may play dumb or truly forget you ever asked.  Putting things in writing will ensure everyone is on the same page about the request.

Tip 3 – Remember your Doctor is not a lawyer

If your doctor has provided supporting information for your reasonable accommodation request, remember that your doctor is not a lawyer and may not fully understand the impact of a written note that states:

“Andrea would really benefit from a reasonable accommodation for her diabetes.  It would be helpful for Andrea to have accommodations including but not limited to [insert a laundry list of accommodations]…. ” 

Laundry list recommendations can delay the interactive process and give your employer wiggle room to say that any accommodation will do.  Sometimes doctors will use cookie cutter templates to list all potential accommodations that might benefit an employee.  Try to ask your doctor to pinpoint specific accommodations for you instead of adding a laundry list of things.  Your employer will likely take you more serious if your doctor writes something like:

Andrea needs to check her blood sugar three times a day.  She would benefit from three breaks to do so.”

With a specific accommodation request, it will be clear if your Employer says “No” or if your employer says “Try Again”.

Tip 4 – Keep the Discussion Alive

Understand that your employer doesn’t have to give you the accommodation you request but should work with you to develop a reasonable accommodation that works for both parties.

For example, if you tell your employer you need a super expensive device, they do not have to pay for it if it’s an excessive financial burden.

However, the employer should ask for your input about an accommodation that can work and both parties should work to keep the conversation alive until the an approved accommodation is reached. Typically the first party to quit discussing options loses and you should think of the interactive process as playing hot potato.  If the discussion goes on for too long, make sure you communicate so and ask that the accommodation request be resolved within 5 business days.

Tip 5 – If the Job says “Nope”, Consider Legal Action

If your job ignores your request(s) for a reasonable accommodation or tells you “You better do your job without any accommodations“, consider contacting an attorney – or if you’d rather handle the dispute without an attorney contact the Illinois Department of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to file a Charge of Discrimination.

Keep in mind that filing a charge does not save your job and you have the burden of proving why the Employer violated the relevant laws protecting your rights.  You are likely not the first employee to file a charge against your company, so don’t assume filing a charge means getting what you want.  Many employers aggressively defend themselves and all legal matters move slower than real life.

Tip 6 –  You Have Deadlines and must act quickly

If you decide to take legal action, mind your deadlines. Most claims have a very short shelf life of 6 months or less (180 days or less) so you need not delay.  Holidays, surgeries, chemo and anger typically do not grant you extra time for these specific deadlines and a good administrative charge can get tossed simply because it is late.

Pietrucha Law Firm, LLC is a proud sponsor of Equip for Equality, an Illinois-based resource for disabled individuals.   We encourage all disabled employees who can work to seek out opportunities to do so and also to oppose unlawful treatment.  If you are a disabled employee, our firm also offers virtual meetings, home visits and other accommodations so that you can get the legal help you need.  Feel free to contact us if you need assistance.

From all of us at Pietrucha Law Firm, Happy Holidays!