Disabilities and work: Employees can fight harassment

Frank S. Clowney III

You have asthma, but you still need to work. You’re not disabled, and on most days, you are able to work without complications. Unfortunately, you are exposed to fumes, e.g., cleaning chemicals, on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that can cause you to have asthma flares.

On one of the work days last week, you suddenly realized that you couldn’t breathe. You went to go get your medication, and you were able to use the inhaler in a private room. All went well until you went back out to the office and saw people mocking you for taking your medicine. You overheard someone saying that “they knew the risks and shouldn’t work here.”

That kind of harassment and hostile environment is difficult for someone to work in, and it’s something to which employers need to be alerted. The last thing an employer wants is a discrimination lawsuit filed against them. As an employee, the last thing you want is to have to go through that kind of legal challenge.

How can employers help prevent discrimination or harassment at work?

Every employee is different, and it’s worth having a discussion about safety in the workplace with all employees about various conditions that affect people. Talking about work-related asthma, diabetes, and other illnesses that can affect work interactions could help staff be more empathetic and reduce the likelihood of harassment complaints.

Overall, employers need to provide for an atmosphere where employees feel respected and are able to take care of themselves. No amount of harassment should be allowed to occur, even if some people believe that they’re “just joking around.” Those who feel harassed or who are told not to return to work should reach out and learn more about their legal options.