Planning for Changes at Work

Your job may change as your disability changes. Fortunately, there are ways you and your employer can work together to make sure that you can keep working. Here we’re going to talk about 3 important things that may help you at work when your disability changes:

These processes are introduced briefly here. For more detailed information about them, see DB101’s Going to Work section.

Disclosing Your Disability

Disclosing your disability means telling your employer that you have a disability. You have the right to choose whether or not to disclose your disability and disclosing a disability may or may not make sense for you, depending on your situation. Your employer does not have the right to ask you about it.

What it offers

The main benefit of disclosing your disability is that it lets you request reasonable accommodations. Another reason to disclose your disability is if you have an impairment that is visible to others. You are never required to discuss your disability, but if you address your disability upfront, even if you do not need a reasonable accommodation, you may be able to prevent stigma, discrimination, or misinformation related to your disability.

How you do it

If you choose to disclose your disability, you should tell your Human Resources manager or your supervisor. If you also request a reasonable accommodation, your employer is allowed to ask for documentation of your disability to understand it and learn how to accommodate it. However, the employer is not allowed to disclose your disability to anybody else, unless it directly impacts another employee’s job.

How much information and detail you give your employer about your disability is your decision. Many people want to limit any medical information they give to their employers to just the information that is necessary to request an accommodation. For example, you can supply information about your current accommodation needs without disclosing that your disability is progressive.

When it’s a good option

You decide if you want to disclose your disability and you base that decision on your personal needs, preferences, and comfort level with your disability. When you notice that the nature of your disability changes, you should consider whether or not disclosing your disability is right for you.

You may find that you do not need to disclose your disability now, because your disability does not yet mean that you need an accommodation. However, if your disability progresses and you need an accommodation in the future, you may need to disclose your disability at that time.

Read more about disclosing your disability in the DB101 article on Job Supports and Accommodations.

Requesting Reasonable Accommodations

A reasonable accommodation is any kind of change or adjustment to job functions or work environment that makes it possible for employees with disabilities to have equal access to employment and enjoy the same benefits of employment as their peers without disabilities.

What they offer

To have the right to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you must:

  • Be a person with a disability as defined in the ADA
  • Need the accommodation because of your disability
  • Work for a private employer with 15 or more employees or a state or local government
    • Additional laws called the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mean that almost all employers in Minnesota have to supply reasonable accommodations, including the federal government and employers with fewer than 15 employees.

Reasonable accommodations must be given to qualified employees, regardless of whether they have part-time, full-time, temporary, permanent, or probationary status.

Examples of Resonable Accomodations
  • Having a ramp or elevators for wheelchair users
  • Dividing large assignments into smaller tasks
  • Having qualified sign-language interpreters for deaf employees
  • Buying computer screen-reading software for blind employees

The following are not considered reasonable accommodations:

  • Removing or eliminating an essential function from a job
  • Lowering production standards
  • Offering items, such as a prosthetic limb, a wheelchair, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or similar devices, if they are also needed for personal use off the job

How you get one

To request an accommodation, you should first think about your personal needs and then identify reasonable accommodations that meet those needs. When you have an idea about what you want, request the accommodation from your supervisor or Human Resources manager. Your request can be in plain English and you don’t have to use any legal terms.

It is your responsibility to take the initiative to request an accommodation. If you do not request an accommodation and your job performance suffers, your employer has the right to fire you from your job or take disciplinary action. If you do not need an accommodation now, but your disability progresses and you need an accommodation in the future, you can request it then. You do not need to disclose your disability until you need the accommodation.

An employer does not have to give you the exact accommodation you request. If several accommodations would work, the employer may choose which one to supply.

When they’re a good option

You should request a reasonable accommodation when there is a barrier that prevents you from performing your job or accessing other benefits of employment. Reasonable accommodations can be a key to success for you at your job.

To learn more about reasonable accommodations, read DB101’s Job Supports and Accommodations article.

Discrimination

If you think you have been discriminated against (treated unfairly or unequally) at work because you have a disability or because you asked for an accommodation, you can get legal advice from the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC). You should also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) as soon as possible. DB101’s Rights and Responsibilities article explains how to contact these authorities and file a complaint.

Taking Time Off Through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

You may find that you can’t work for a while after you become disabled or that you want to work fewer hours as your disability changes. Both are possibilities that your employer can help you with. Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if you work for a private employer with 50 or more employees or in the state, local, or federal government, your employer is actually required to let you take some time off for a disability.

Your Family Members Can Take Off Time to Help You

The FMLA also means that family members who work at qualifying employers can take time off to help you as you adapt to your disability. All of the rules described below that discuss how you can take time off when you become disabled also apply to a spouse or other family member who chooses to help you or take care of you when you become disabled.

What it offers

The FMLA requires private employers with 50 or more employees and all state, local, and federal government employers to give employees up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave a year for specific reasons. To take the leave, you must have recently had a child, have a serious health condition, or be taking care of a family member with a serious health condition.

In these situations, the leave must be “job-protected,” which means that after the leave, you must be allowed to return to your original job or be given another job that is similar. The FMLA also requires that these employers keep you on group health care benefits during your leave.

How you do it

To be eligible for FMLA benefits, you must:

  • Work for an employer to whom the FMLA applies
  • Have been employed by the employer for at least 12 months
  • Have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period before you begin your leave

It’s up to you how you take the 12 weeks off during the course of the year. You can choose to take all 12 weeks off at the same time or take multiple shorter leaves. You can even take FMLA leave to work fewer hours per week or work just 4 days a week instead of 5.

If you want to take FMLA leave, let your employer know as soon as possible. You’ll need to give your employer enough information so your employer can find out if the FMLA applies to your leave request. Depending on the situation, such information may include that you have been hospitalized, medical documentation that your disability has changed, that you are getting continuing care from a health care provider, or that you are pregnant.

When it’s a good option

The FMLA can be a great option for you if you need time to adapt to your changing disability or need time for treatment. It’s also important to remember that if you need extra help from a family member, such as a parent or spouse, that person can take time off with the FMLA to help you.

Read more about the FMLA in DB101’s Rights and Responsibilities article.

Leaving Work

If you can’t do your old job anymore because of your disability, you may be able to find another job that your disability does not prevent you from doing. Later in this article, we’ll talk about how you can learn new skills and who can help you find a new job.