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  • Kansas

    Hello (I want to apologize in advance, as this will be long),

    I had a question about disability, if my situation would be considered a disability, and what my rights are as an employee.

    I have been employed at my job almost 2 years, and was promoted to a management position in May 2012. I have had scoliosis my whole life, which has resulted in occasional back pain (maybe once or twice a month, and it would be concentrated in one area, so I could treat it with a heating pad). In June 2012, my back pain started getting significantly worse, accompanied by muscle spasms all through my neck, shoulders and back. My neck muscles tighten up so much that it can be very painful to sit up, and I've been getting tension/migraine headaches that make me nauseated when I look at a computer or TV screen, and the only way I can get over those is by laying down in a cold, dark room.

    I had originally started working with a chiropractor in June 2012 about this issue, who certified me for FMLA, for one occurrence per month. In addition, since the pain wasn't getting any better, I started working with a General Practictioner doctor. She did an X-Ray and saw that my scoliosis is significant. I've also been to Urgent Care four times since June about this issue.

    In October, my pain started increasing so much that it's hard to get out of bed. It's painful to hold my neck up due to muscle spasms. I have tried to come in to work but I have not been able to work a full day since October 19. My General Practictioner has seen how bad my pain has gotten and referred me to a Pain Management doctor and a Neurologist, for my migraines. She is also re-certifying my FMLA paperwork to include that my flare-ups have increased. Also, I am prescribed Valium for my muscle pain when it peaks, and it makes me drowsy and fall right asleep. I have tried to come in a few days while on the medication but was very out of it and made a few mistakes, so I went home, and advised my supervisor and Human Resources Department that the medication makes me drowsy, and my doctor specifically stated not to drive while on Valium. I am having my doctor include this in my FMLA paperwork.

    When I have tried to work, I have done my best to try to accommodate this issue - I asked my boss if I could have my heating pad on my neck when my muscles start cramping up, and she said yes (even with the heating pad on, though, my muscles have spasmed so much that I wasn't able to make it through the day). Also, I asked our Administrative Assistant for the guide to adjust our chairs for lumbar support, but I still experience the back pain.

    I don't sleep well - I toss and turn all night because of the pain and am exhausted throughout the day. The only relief I receive is when I'm able to lay down with the heating pad, take a hot shower, and take my muscle relaxer.

    My Human Resources Department, as well as my supervisor, told me to concentrate first and foremost on getting myself well. They stated that they cannot have me there when I am in pain, as I would not be focusing on the work, and that is what's best for me and for the company. I'm not sure how much FMLA time I've gone through, but my Human Resources Department has spoken with me about the option of taking a personal Leave of Absence after the FMLA runs out.

    I have been an excellent employee with glowing reviews, and I got promoted very quickly throughout my time with the company, so I do not want to put my job in jeopardy. I have not had attendance issues before this back pain started becoming so bad. I'm concerned because I have a lot of doctor appointments coming up - neurologist, physical therapy, steroid injections.

    My questions are:

    1. Is my back/neck/shoulder pain considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

    2. If the answer to my first question is yes, would there be any way to cover any subsequent absences after my FMLA runs out under the ADA?

    Thank you.

  • #2
    Originally posted by IamKateyKaboom View Post
    Hello (I want to apologize in advance, as this will be long),

    I had a question about disability, if my situation would be considered a disability, and what my rights are as an employee.

    I have been employed at my job almost 2 years, and was promoted to a management position in May 2012. I have had scoliosis my whole life, which has resulted in occasional back pain (maybe once or twice a month, and it would be concentrated in one area, so I could treat it with a heating pad). In June 2012, my back pain started getting significantly worse, accompanied by muscle spasms all through my neck, shoulders and back. My neck muscles tighten up so much that it can be very painful to sit up, and I've been getting tension/migraine headaches that make me nauseated when I look at a computer or TV screen, and the only way I can get over those is by laying down in a cold, dark room.

    I had originally started working with a chiropractor in June 2012 about this issue, who certified me for FMLA, for one occurrence per month. In addition, since the pain wasn't getting any better, I started working with a General Practictioner doctor. She did an X-Ray and saw that my scoliosis is significant. I've also been to Urgent Care four times since June about this issue.

    In October, my pain started increasing so much that it's hard to get out of bed. It's painful to hold my neck up due to muscle spasms. I have tried to come in to work but I have not been able to work a full day since October 19. My General Practictioner has seen how bad my pain has gotten and referred me to a Pain Management doctor and a Neurologist, for my migraines. She is also re-certifying my FMLA paperwork to include that my flare-ups have increased. Also, I am prescribed Valium for my muscle pain when it peaks, and it makes me drowsy and fall right asleep. I have tried to come in a few days while on the medication but was very out of it and made a few mistakes, so I went home, and advised my supervisor and Human Resources Department that the medication makes me drowsy, and my doctor specifically stated not to drive while on Valium. I am having my doctor include this in my FMLA paperwork.

    When I have tried to work, I have done my best to try to accommodate this issue - I asked my boss if I could have my heating pad on my neck when my muscles start cramping up, and she said yes (even with the heating pad on, though, my muscles have spasmed so much that I wasn't able to make it through the day). Also, I asked our Administrative Assistant for the guide to adjust our chairs for lumbar support, but I still experience the back pain.

    I don't sleep well - I toss and turn all night because of the pain and am exhausted throughout the day. The only relief I receive is when I'm able to lay down with the heating pad, take a hot shower, and take my muscle relaxer.

    My Human Resources Department, as well as my supervisor, told me to concentrate first and foremost on getting myself well. They stated that they cannot have me there when I am in pain, as I would not be focusing on the work, and that is what's best for me and for the company. I'm not sure how much FMLA time I've gone through, but my Human Resources Department has spoken with me about the option of taking a personal Leave of Absence after the FMLA runs out.

    I have been an excellent employee with glowing reviews, and I got promoted very quickly throughout my time with the company, so I do not want to put my job in jeopardy. I have not had attendance issues before this back pain started becoming so bad. I'm concerned because I have a lot of doctor appointments coming up - neurologist, physical therapy, steroid injections.

    My questions are:

    1. Is my back/neck/shoulder pain considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

    2. If the answer to my first question is yes, would there be any way to cover any subsequent absences after my FMLA runs out under the ADA?

    Thank you.

    Nobody can possibly answer that, I'm afraid.

    There is only one condition that is automatically considered a disability, and it is not your diagnosis.

    Comment


    • #3
      http://askjan.org/ is a website to walk employees and employers through ADA issues.

      Additional time off could be an accomodation but isn't guaranteed.

      Comment


      • #4
        Even if it qualifies as a disability under the ADA, your employer only needs to come up with a reasonable accommodation. Some add'l. time off might or might not be a reasonable accommodation for your employer.
        Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia

        Live in peace with animals. Animals bring love to our hearts and warmth to our souls.

        Comment


        • #5
          Thank you both! At this point (for anyone else who might be going through a similar situation), I suppose the best thing to do is just trying to keep the lines of communication open with my immediate supervisors, as well as my Human Resources Department. I'm keeping very good notes of my conversations with HR/my supervisors, as well as my doctors' visits. Also, I'm keeping a pain journal so I can figure out what's triggering this and maybe see if there's a pattern/what time of day the pain gets to be the worst.

          Not trying to complain at all, it's just such a Catch 22 because when my pain acts up, the medication I need to take makes me drowsy/slur my words (and as a member of management, I don't want to be perceived like that in front of my team). So it's either A) stay home and try to recuperate (and miss everything going on at work and possibly be subject to disciplinary action for attendance issues) or B) go to work on my medication and possibly nod off at my desk or make a mistake that impacts our clients.

          I LOVE my job and have always received glowing reviews, so I don't think they're going to try to use it against me, and I'm trying to work with my doctors/physical therapists as much as I can to keep this at bay.

          Thanks again for the feedback!

          Comment


          • #6
            Keep in mind that your employer does not have to allow you to work while sleepy. If you are at work, you will need to be able to complete your responsibilities.

            Comment


            • #7
              It is probable that your scoliosis does fall under ADA, especially if it is so debilitating. Not a given, but likely. I would find out how much FMLA time you still have left.

              I would also be talking to the doctor about non-narcotic pain management options such as a TENS unit. That might help you continue to work even when you are having an episode.

              Extra time off isn't given but it sounds like your employer is willing to grant it. You will have to ask them about the duration and how to request it should it be necessary.
              I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by ElleMD View Post
                It is probable that your scoliosis does fall under ADA, especially if it is so debilitating. Not a given, but likely. I would find out how much FMLA time you still have left.

                I would also be talking to the doctor about non-narcotic pain management options such as a TENS unit. That might help you continue to work even when you are having an episode.

                Extra time off isn't given but it sounds like your employer is willing to grant it. You will have to ask them about the duration and how to request it should it be necessary.
                Thanks for the advice, ElleMD and HRinMA! I've been trying to halve my doses of my medication to see if it makes any difference. Valium is pretty strong (at least for me), so it still makes me sleepy, even if I just take half. I am having my doctor include that the drowsiness is a side effect in my FMLA recertification. I wouldn't come in if I know I would not be able to perform my responsibilities. If after taking my medications my judgement is so impaired that I'm not able to drive (and the doctor specifically told me not to drive after taking Valium), then I know I cannot work that day.

                I'm looking into cold laser therapy, possibly purchasing the Laser Touch One, and also getting neuromuscular massages every 4-6 weeks (depending on when I can afford it) and going to a chiropractor in addition to the treatment I'm receiving from my doctors and physical therapists. I will ask about a TENS unit at my next appointment.

                Comment


                • #9
                  In addition, I would talk to your doctor about other ways to mitigate the effects of your symptoms. It may be an anti-glare screen would reduce the migraines, or even setting up your work station differently so there is less muscle strain. If he hasn't done so already, I would ask your doctor about referring you for an Occupational Therapist evaluation. A good OT can be invaluable and teach you to compensate for your spine so that you aren't putting undue stress on the rest of your body. A really good one will show you what to do when your muscles start to spasm.

                  On a side note I now realize why I've had various Animaniacs theme songs running through my head since yesterday...
                  I post with the full knowledge and support of my employer, though the opinions rendered are my own and not necessarily representative of their position. In other words, I'm a free agent.

                  Comment

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