It's a very fine line as to what a disability is and who is defining it. A
disability can be defined quite differently by an employer, insurance company, a
doctor, and even a government agency. This becomes the time where what is said,
written, or stated in any manner or context can help or hurt one's rights. It's
also important to not lie about anything since first it's not the right thing to
do and second it can come back and cause greater problems.|
As in any legal issue, it's important to be careful what information is given
out. All it can take is a misspoken word or an omission of a fact and then
factual or not, you may be denied your rights. After you are denied, you then
have to fight to regain what you have lost.
Different entities will require a lot of different information. If you provide
information that could be seen as unfavorable, you could be denied benefits.
Your employer, health insurance company, disability insurance, and Social
Security, have specific requirements that must be met for you to be considered
as disabled. Knowing what the requirements are can save you a lot of time and
Every company will react differently once they are informed of any health related
issue. You may simply wish to make them aware of your health issue, seek workplace
accommodations, or seek disability, but at some point you will have to inform them.
What affect it could have on your job is up to each individual company and how they
value their employees.
It's important to know that you do have legal rights concerning your job
and how your employer handles any illness or disability such as multiple sclerosis
(MS). If an employer has little or no experience with handling a disability, then it
will probably be in your best interest to help educate them. Be sure to handle any
contact with an employer in a non-threatening way, otherwise they may not be willing
to assist you.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities
and may protect you to some extent with your current employer. The United States
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency that deals with charges
against employers who are felt to violate the ADA along with any state or local
anti-discrimination agency. You have the right to contact the EEOC or an attorney
that specializes in workplace disability claims if you feel that you are not being
treated in a fair manner.
Personal Disability Insurance
If you have a long-term disability insurance plan that you personally pay for,
it's very important to know everything that is and is not covered, and how they
define a "disability." These policies can only be purchased prior to being
disabled and unfortunately are something a healthy person never considers. If
you have purchased a policy prior to being diagnosed with MS, and then if you
ever become "disabled" under their definition, you can file a claim. This type
of policy is just like dealing with any insurance claim, it's always important
to be careful what you say and don't say.
If you have to file a claim then you will probably be asked to be examined by a
doctor of the insurance companies choosing for verification and if your
disability claim is determined as valid, then there should not be a problem.
Remember that every insurance company defines a "disability" differently, so
make sure you look at how your policy defines it, because unless your symptoms
specifically fall into their definition, there's a chance that they could deny
If your claim is denied, then do additional research and appeal the decision.
You once again have the right to an attorney and it may be wise to at least
contact one prior to filing any claim. These types of insurance plans would
usually fall under the jurisdiction of a state insurance commissioner.
Workplace Disability Insurance
Now if your employer carries and pays for the long-term disability plan, then that
plan would fall under the federal Employee Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the U.S. Department of Labor. This type of
plan gets a bit more complicated so again be careful what you say or don't say.
Make sure that you are aware of what falls into the plan and again how they define a
"disability." If they feel that you have not provided enough information,
then they will most likely deny your claim. If you say anything that they could
question, then they could in their view have a reason to deny your claim.
Unlike a disability policy that you may purchase, this type of policy might seem
similar but with one big difference; the insurance company can't be sued for
punitive damages. So they have nothing to loose if they deny your claim and end
up loosing a suit that you may file against them. All they would be required to
pay for would be attorney fees in addition to paying the policy.
If you don't feel like battling, then they can usually get you to settle for
less than what the policy is worth - so they technically can come out ahead.
Again, you do have the right to seek the advise of an attorney at any point of
the processes. It would be wise to contact one prior to filing any claim is you
are not comfortable with this or feel that they are not taking you seriously.
The National MS Society provides a booklet that can help you to know your
rights. It's an easy to read Q & A format containing information on employment,
SSDI, family law, insurance, and more. It offers resources in each chapter, form
letters and helpful guides for navigating legal difficulties.
You can download it directly from the National MS Society from the link below in
"A Guide to Disability Rights Laws" section.
Recent Updates to the Law
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of
2008 (ADAAA) was signed into law on September 25th, 2008. Since the ADA
was signed into law in 1990, judicial rulings had begun to rule that those with
disabilities that could control symptoms with disease modifying drugs were
precluded from seeking reasonable workplace accommodations.|
Some were being told by the courts that they were not disabled due to the fact
that they were taking medication that essentially made them not disabled. So you
were left with the choice of being disabled by not taking medication or being
not disabled when you do take your medication. The other major issue was that if
your condition was eposodic, or not always severe, then you may not be
The newly signed ADA Amendments Act clarifies and defines a disability as still
a disability even while medications are in control of symptoms. It also states
that courts should not consider the effects of "mitigating measures" such as
drugs and physical aides. It specifies that "an impairment that is episodic or
in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life
activity when active," meaning basically a person is considered disabled even if
medications or physical aides allow them to function as if they are not
disabled. The ADA Amendments Act became effective January 1, 2009 and once again
reaffirms the protections of those with disabilities.
The ADA Amendments Act retains the ADA's basic definition of "disability" as an
impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record
of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However,
it changes the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted in several
ways. Most significantly, the ADA Amendments Act:
||Directs EEOC to revise that portion of its regulations defining
the term "substantially limits";
||expands the definition of "major life activities" by
including two non-exhaustive lists:
||the first list includes many activities such as walking as well as
activities not specifically recognized such as reading, bending, and communicating;
||the second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., "functions
of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain,
respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions");
||states that mitigating measures other than "ordinary eyeglasses
or contact lenses" shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual
has a disability;
||clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a
disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
||changes the definition of "regarded as" so that it no longer
requires a showing that the employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited
in a major life activity, and instead says that an applicant or employee is "regarded
as" disabled if he or she is subject to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure
to hire or termination) based on an impairment that is not transitory and minor;
||provides that individuals covered only under the "regarded as"
prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.
A Guide to Disability Rights Laws
The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Disability Rights
Section has put out "A Guide to Disability Rights Laws."
A .pdf copy from there site can be opened in a new window by pressing
direct download here or you can go to the government site directly at
The National MS Society also provides a booklet called "Know Your Rights: A Legal
Guide for People Living with Multiple Sclerosis" that can help you to understand
your rights. It's an easy to read Q & A format containing information on
employment, SSDI, family law, insurance, and more. It offers resources in each
chapter, form letters and helpful guides for navigating legal difficulties.
A .pdf copy from there site can be opened in a new window by pressing
direct download here or you can go to the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society
and enter "Know Your Rights" into their search box. It should be one of the first
search results listed.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
U.S. Labor Department Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Disability Evaluation Under Social Security (The Blue Book)
Social Security Planner