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Saturday, January 22, 2022

Your job and your rights

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If you have recently learned that you have coronary artery disease, you may worry if you can go back to work. For most people, it’s okay to get back to work.

“Treatments for coronary artery disease today are so much better” that more people with the condition are able to work today than ever before, says Haider Warraich, MD, associate director of heart failure program at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Case in point: Warraich’s 2018 study in the medical journal Circulation surveyed over 9,000 people who had had a heart attack and found that among those who were employed, only 1 in 10 people cut working hours or quit their jobs.

If you return to work, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects your right to ask for any changes necessary to perform your duties. Employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations”, such as changing working hours or relocating to a more suitable location.

But not everyone with CAD can go back to full capacity. If your job involves stressful 60-hour work weeks, for example, your cardiologist might advise you to cut back or even switch to a less demanding career, Warraich says.

But for the most part, “As more employers have become more accommodating and we’ve gotten better treatments, we’re seeing that the majority of coronary heart disease patients are able to return successfully,” he says.

Here are some of the best advice from employment lawyers on how to navigate your job after CAD:

Start with the human resources department. If you have a great relationship with your boss, you may want to contact them first. But it’s best to contact the human resources department, says Jeffrey Rhodes, a labor attorney at McInroy, Rigby & Rhodes, LLP in Arlington, Virginia. “They will be most familiar with what they are legally required to do under the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he says. Your HR department also knows they must follow the confidentiality rules in the ADA, so they should know exactly what they can and cannot disclose to your supervisors.

“Unfortunately, sometimes people who have very friendly relationships with their employers over-share, which they may regret later,” he says.

Describe the accommodations you expect. Before contacting HR, discuss in detail with your cardiologist what you need to be able to return to work successfully, says Edgar Ndjatou, executive director of Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit group based in Washington, DC

These can include:

  • Free time for medical examinations.
  • More frequent rest breaks. If you are on your feet all day, for example, you can request a scooter to help you get around or permission to sit instead of standing while you work.
  • Lift limits. This request is especially common if you have had surgery or a recent heart attack. Over time, as you recover, you will be able to lift more.
  • Breaks to take medication.
  • Travel limits.

It’s a good idea to have your cardiologist write a letter detailing why you need the accommodation and for how long, Ndjatou says. A request does not guarantee that you will receive it.

“Your employer must, by law, review your application, but if they can prove that it is very expensive or harmful to their operations, they can legally deny it,” Ndjatou says.

But they must make a good faith effort. “They can’t just have a conversation with you and then say, ‘We can’t do this,'” says Ndjatou. If you ask for a transfer to a less stressful position due to your coronary artery disease, for example, they must actively seek opportunities within the company to relocate you, even if it is not available at this time.

Request for family and medical leave (FMLA). This federal law can protect you if you have to take time off work to recover from coronary heart disease. You may be eligible for FMLA if:

  • You have worked for your employer for at least 1 year.
  • In the past year, you have worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer (approximately 24 hours a week).
  • Your employer employs at least 50 people within 75 miles of where you work.

If you are covered, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. Your employer cannot fire you for taking leave or refuse to return your job when you return. They must also continue to pay for your health insurance.

Gape at work. You may be close to your co-workers, but you should still be careful about what you reveal about your coronary artery disease-related accommodations, Rhodes says.

“Keep in mind that if you share personal and private health information with colleagues, it could spread within the company and have negative consequences,” he says. “If that happens, it would be difficult to hold your employer accountable because it would be difficult to prove it was because of their lack of confidentiality.” Spread out just enough to clarify why you need housing, but keep the in-depth discussions for your friends outside the office.

Know your legal options. Your employer can’t retaliate against you for applying for housing, Rhodes says. If you feel you are facing retaliation or are being pressured to quit, find a local employment lawyer for advice. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) yourself. They will notify your company within 10 days and investigate if there are compelling reasons to believe that discrimination has occurred. The average time to investigate and resolve a charge is approximately 10 months.

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