Employee and Employer Resources
If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and are employed or seeking employment, you are entitled to certain rights in the workplace.
Whether it’s taking time off to care for yourself or a loved one, or requesting accommodations in your work environment, there are several federal laws that protect your rights as well as programs that are available to help.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified medical reasons. For IBD patients, this can include time off for surgery, hospital stays, mental health, and even multiple and regular doctor visits, lab draws, or infusion appointments.
Employees and employers must qualify for FMLA. For instance, an employee must have worked for at least 12 months, or 1250 hours and an employer must have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. Additionally, your employer may require you to use all your paid leave (sick/vacation days) to cover some or all of your FMLA period.
Immediate family members, acting as primary caregivers, can also take up to 12 weeks of leave from their workplace to care for a loved one. Click here for more specific FMLA information for caregivers.
Notify your employer as soon as you know you will need FMLA leave. Click here to read some helpful tips to prepare your FMLA request.
Short- and Long-Term Disability Insurance
Short- and long-term disability insurance provide some compensation or income if you are unable to work due to an illness or injury. These plans may be offered by your employer or you may purchase supplemental individual policies through your employer or other group membership.
Short-term disability insurance pays a percentage of an employee’s salary when they are unable to return to work because of an injury or illness for a short period (often three to six months). It runs simultaneously with FMLA but is NOT protected job leave. Short-term disability is typically offered as a benefit through your employer, through certain states, or as an individual policy. You will not be eligible for benefits until you have been out of work for typically seven-14 days.
Long-term disability insurance pays a percentage of an employee’s salary when they are unable to return to work for an extended time period – and that time can vary greatly. Like short-term disability, long-term disability is offered as a benefit through your employer or it can be paid for privately by an individual. You must meet the definition of disability for 90 – 180 days before the insurance company will begin paying benefits.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
IBD is a health condition which affects every patient differently, and for some patients their IBD may be considered disabling. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines disability as a mental or physical impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Unfortunately, there are some patients with IBD who may experience trouble with a major life activity such as eating, sleeping, or caring for oneself.
This federal civil rights law bans discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same employment opportunities as everyone else. It states that individuals with a disability may inform their employer that an accommodation (see examples below) is necessary at any point during their employment or as a job applicant while seeking employment. Employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities to help them perform their essential functions.
You can request an accommodation at any time during the application process or while you are employed. It is recommended to request an accommodation when you know there is a barrier that is preventing you from competing for a job, performing a job, or gaining equal access to a benefit of employment. It is advised that you request an accommodation before your job performance suffers.
If you are a patient with IBD, there may be times when you may need a reasonable accommodation. Examples of work accommodations that may be helpful for IBD patients include:
- Moving a workspace closer to a bathroom
- Changing or having flexible work hours to accommodate healthcare appointments, procedures, or symptoms
- Additional rests or breaks to help with fatigue or other symptoms
- Working from home when not feeling well
- Unpaid or paid leave for hospitalizations or procedures
It’s important to remember that accommodations are NOT guaranteed. Therefore, when requesting accommodations, you want to make sure that you are not asking for anything that would cause undue hardship. An undue hardship is an accommodation that would be extremely costly, would require major changes to the physical environment, nature, or operation of the business, or is for personal preference. These types of accommodations are likely to be denied by an employer.
Here are some examples of reasonable and unreasonable IBD work accommodations:
Example: Accommodation - Approved as Reasonable
Michelle is a customer services representative at a busy call center and has recently been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. She often needs restroom breaks. She is going to let her employer know about her condition and ask that her desk be moved closer to the women’s restroom and that they not penalize her for many trips to the bathroom a day. She keeps up with her work, and there are nine other customer services representatives who work there and cover the phones.
Reasoning: These could be considered reasonable accommodations. Since there are nine other employees present to answer the phones, they will not have to go out of their way to cover for her. Additionally, if there is space to move her desk closer to the women’s restroom, her employer should be able to accommodate.
Example: Accommodation - Denied as Unreasonable
Anita is a salesperson at a local showroom for a car dealership and has been in an ulcerative colitis flare on and off for the past year. She used all her paid time off and has also gone through her FMLA time. She is still not well enough to get back to work at the dealership. Her attendance is essential for her job and IBD prevents her from getting to work every day. Her employer has been helpful so far, but they are saying that they can no longer accommodate her situation as she would like to try and “sell” from home.
Reasoning: Anita may not be protected by the ADA in this instance. If you are a car salesperson in a showroom, then your job requires your presence in the workplace. Even with accommodation, Anita cannot perform the essential function of her job. If available and Anita is qualified, her employer may consider moving Anita to another role within the company, where she can work from home.
Requests for reasonable accommodation do not have to be in writing –you can request accommodations during a face-to-face conversation or using other methods of communication. Click here for helpful tips when preparing your request for workplace accommodations.
Although you legally do not need to disclose your medical condition, sharing with your colleagues may help foster understanding. The Foundation has many useful tools to help educate your colleagues about IBD.
You can also visit the Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF) for additional resources and information about workplace rights and benefits.
The Employee and Employer Resources Initiative is generously supported, in part, by Takeda