Are all employees with disabilities protected?
No. Long-term or permanent conditions that impact a “major life activity” (i.e. walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning or working) qualify as protected disabilities under federal (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Florida discrimination laws. Other chronic conditions, even if in a state of remission, may be covered as well. Employees who possess such a condition, but are otherwise qualified to perform the essential functions of their job (with or without a reasonable accommodation) are subject to legal protections. Similarly, employees who are not disabled, but are “regarded as” being disabled by their employer, or have a record of a prior disability, are protected from discrimination.

What is a reasonable accommodation?
Employers are required to make efforts to provide working environments and equipment, and to exercise flexibility in assigning work schedules and tasks, in order to accommodate employees with disabilities. Employers are not required to create new jobs, transfer a disabled employee’s co-worker, hire assistants, or do anything else that would result in an undue hardship, in order to accommodate disabled workers.

Are employees with disabilities entitled to “light duty” assignments?
Although the term “light duty” is commonly used in the workplace, the ADA does not legally define the term. Generally, “light duty” assignments involving the elimination of non-essential functions of a job would typically be required, while those involving the elimination or reassignment of essential functions would not.

Under what circumstances are employees entitled to leaves of absence?
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires covered employers to provide covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. Covered employers are defined as those who employ 50 or more employees within a 75 mile radius. Covered employees are those who have been employed for at least one year and who have worked a minimum of 1250 hours in the previous 12 months. FMLA applies to serious health conditions involving either the employee or an immediate family member (parent, spouse or child) or the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child.

What are the rights of employees who exercise their leave rights?
Employees on protected leave are generally entitled to maintain their benefits and to be reinstated to their previous job or an equivalent position upon the conclusion of their leave. Employers are not permitted to take any adverse action against employees who exercise their leave rights.