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Is IBD Covered Under the ADA?

People With IBD Have Certain Protections Under The Law


Updated July 03, 2014

Question: Is IBD Covered Under the ADA?

In the past, asking an employer for reasonable accommodation in regards to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD [Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis]) was a risky undertaking. The stigma that people with IBD have emotional problems was pervasive, and legal recourse was not easy. The 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could change this.


The amendment, which took effect January 1, 2009, protects more individuals than it did in the past. A disability is now defined as a condition that substantially impairs a major life activity -- even while that condition is in remission (the absence of disease activity).

“Major Life Activities.” The first definition of major-life activities includes a fairly obvious set of abilities: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

The second definition includes a list of “major bodily functions”: functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions. These major-life activities can be impairments, but they aren’t always readily apparent from looking at or talking with a person.

Applications to IBD. Now that digestion is defined as a major life activity, people who have IBD may be covered under the ADA. Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” to assist their employees who are considered disabled by the definitions set in the ADA.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations for someone with digestive disease might be:

  • Allowing enough time for frequent restroom breaks.
  • Moving an employees’ workstation closer to a restroom.
  • Time off or unpaid leave for doctor’s appointments, flare-ups or hospitalizations.
  • Providing flexible work schedules or telecommuting opportunities.
  • Reassignment to a different position.

If you think you are being discriminated against, you can look up your local Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office in the phone book under “U.S. Government” or call them at (800)669-4000 (Voice) or (800)669-6820 (TDD).

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