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Can My Employer Terminate Me After I Request Workplace Accommodations?

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"I'm experiencing debilitating long-term symptoms of COVID-19, including vertigo and cognitive impairment. I notified my employer about my disability and requested accommodations to help me perform my job duties. Shortly afterward, I was terminated from my job. Were my rights violated?"

Answer

An employer who terminates an employee shortly after learning of their disability may be held liable for disability discrimination, which is unlawful under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you believe you have been the victim of unlawful discrimination on the basis of your disability, you may wish to file a charge of disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Depending on your state of residence, this will need to be done within either 180 or 300 days of the date of the discriminatory act.

If an employee notifies their employer about their disability, requests reasonable accommodations, and they are terminated shortly afterward, their employer may be held liable for retaliation. Additionally, an employer in this situation may also be held liable for failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to a disabled employee.

To determine whether an adverse employment action is unlawful retaliation, the EEOC will examine the circumstances surrounding the event. The EEOC will investigate the situation to assess whether:

  • The employee engaged in a protected activity;
  • The employer took an adverse action against the employee; and
  • Retaliation caused the employer’s action.

Requesting accommodations for a disability is a protected activity. Other protected activities include participating in an EEOC investigation and complaining to an employer about discrimination or harassment.

The facts of the situation will determine whether the adverse employment action was taken in response to the employee’s engagement in a protected activity. To succeed with a claim of retaliation, the employee will need to offer evidence that establishes causation between their request for accommodations and their termination. If an employer terminates an employee shortly after receiving a request for accommodations, it creates a strong inference that the adverse employment action was motivated by retaliation. An employer will need to justify the termination with a legitimate non-discriminatory reason to avoid liability for retaliation in these circumstances.

To succeed with a failure to accommodate claim, an employee must show that their requested accommodation was reasonable. An employer would need to establish that the requested accommodation would cause “undue hardship” to avoid liability for failing to provide the accommodation.

If you are experiencing disabling long-term symptoms of COVID-19 and you believe your employer has discriminated against you, you can get help through our Pandemic Legal Assistance Network (PLAN).

What is Long-term Disability Insurance?

Long-term disability (LTD) insurance is a type of insurance that provides financial protection for employees who are unable to work due to a disability. It can help to replace a portion of an employee’s lost income and can provide important financial support for those who are facing a long-term illness or injury.

Patient-Led Researchers Publish Comprehensive Study on Long COVID

On January 13, 2023, a major study authored by Hannah E. Davis, Lisa McCorkell, Julia Moore Vogel, and Eric J. Topol was published in Nature Reviews Microbiology. This study, titled “Long COVID: major findings, mechanisms and recommendations,” provides a comprehensive overview of long COVID and the current understanding of the associated pathophysiology.

How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

If you meet the eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, you may be able to receive disability benefits, even if you are not covered by a private or employer-sponsored disability insurance plan.