Asthma Accommodations for Federal Employees

If you’re one of the estimated 20 million Americans who have asthma, you know that it’s critical to have a plan for managing your condition at work.

For employees with asthma, trying to anticipate when you may have a potentially life-threatening reaction is incredibly important—and stressful. Fortunately, federal employees don’t have to take on this burden alone.

This blog post will offer an overview of asthma reasonable accommodations for federal employees. Our experienced federal reasonable accommodations lawyers answer common questions federal employees have about asthma workplace rights and requesting reasonable accommodations.

Please reach us online or call (800) 801-0598 today to learn how we can assist you.

Is Asthma a Disability Under the ADA?

Asthma is one of many respiratory impairments that may qualify as disabilities under federal law. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is a physical or mental condition that limits someone’s ability to engage in a major life activity, such as breathing, walking, communicating, working, or eating. Even if you manage your asthma with medication, the ADA still considers the condition to be a disability if it interferes with your life when active.

Employees with disabilities are entitled to several rights under federal civil rights laws like the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act). For federal employees, the right to disability accommodations and discrimination protections comes from the Rehab Act, which predates the ADA by 17 years.

The ADA used the Rehab Act as a template for expanding disability rights and protections to private sector employees nationwide. Today, the two laws offer more or less the same benefits to both public and private employees.

These benefits include the right to earn a living in an environment free of harassment and discrimination based on physical or mental disability. Employers covered by the ADA and Rehab Act must also offer employees with disabilities reasonable accommodations that ensure they have equal opportunities in the workplace.

What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Asthma?

A disability accommodation is any change in the work environment that allows an employee to fulfill their job requirements despite their impairment. Since accommodations are always determined on an individual basis, there’s no defined list of approved reasonable accommodations under the ADA or Rehab Act. 

Regarding asthma, reasonable accommodations for federal employees can vary widely depending on the job environment and the severity of an employee’s limitations. 

Some examples of workplace accommodations for asthma that are most common include:

  • Offering rest breaks for employees to get fresh air or take medication,
  • Instituting smoke and fragrance-free areas of the workplace, 
  • Notifying employees about planned construction and cleaning,
  • Adjusting the temperature and humidity of the air in an employee’s workspace,
  • Maintaining ventilation and air-conditioning systems, 
  • Modifying attendance policy to allow employees to seek treatment,
  • Allowing employees to work from home when the risk of triggers is high (e.g., renovations),
  • Moving an employee to a private workspace with window access, and
  • Using non-toxic cleaning or maintenance materials.

This list is not exhaustive. Federal employees and their agencies may identify other methods for safely mitigating the effects of asthma in the workplace. 

There’s also no guarantee that you will receive the exact accommodation you request. Some accommodations are less practical than others, depending on your job and employer’s resources. Under federal law, your employer doesn’t have to grant an accommodation request that poses an undue hardship to their operations.

For example, asking to install a costly new air filtration system in your building might put a significant financial burden on your employer. Instead, requesting a private office and access to a personal air filtration device may be more reasonable. 

How Do I Request Accommodations for Asthma in the Workplace?

Starting the accommodations process can be as simple as having a conversation with your boss. However, it’s often wise to write your accommodation request so you have a record of the process. 

Draft a letter to your employer explaining that you need certain alterations to your work environment because of a medical condition. You’re not required to disclose your disability, but it is helpful to be specific when describing your limitations. Include any ideas you have for accommodations that would help you.

From here, you and your employer will engage in an informal, interactive process to identify an accommodation that works. This process may involve testing alternative accommodations if your first suggestions aren’t feasible. Your employer may also request medical documentation to confirm the extent of your disability. 

When you and your employer reach an agreement, you’ll usually put the details in writing. Your employer may include an expiration date, after which you can review the effectiveness of the accommodation.

Skilled Advocates Empowering Federal Employees

The procedure for getting disability accommodations seems relatively straightforward. However, federal employees can still encounter challenges. If your employer repeatedly refuses your requests or you can’t come to an agreement, it’s a good idea to speak to a lawyer.

A legal professional trained in the ins and outs of federal employment law can evaluate your situation and help determine if your rights are being infringed. 

At Pines Federal, we’re dedicated to providing accessible, high-quality legal representation for federal employees nationwide. With over 60 years of combined experience in federal employment law, our advocates have the deep legal knowledge and strategic insight to tackle a range of disputes that arise in the federal workplace.

If you’re struggling to get the accommodations you need, contact our office online or by phone at (800) 801-0598 to speak with our legal team about your situation.