is asthma a disability

Is Asthma a Disability: Understanding Reasonable Accommodations



Living with asthma can present challenges, especially when it comes to the workplace. Sam*, who has dealt with asthma for most of her life, experienced intensified symptoms due to the strong cleaning agents used in her previous office. This situation raises the question: Is asthma considered a disability? In this article, we will explore the topic of asthma as a disability and the possibility of requesting reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Asthma as a Disability

Asthma’s classification as a disability depends on its severity and the impact it has on an individual’s life. The ADA recognizes that asthma may qualify as a disability if it substantially limits a person’s respiratory function. To determine if your asthma qualifies as a disability, collaboration between your healthcare provider and employer is necessary, considering federal or state law regulations.

For individuals like Sam, asthma may only be considered a disability in specific circumstances. The severity and frequency of symptoms can influence the determination.

Understanding Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations refer to adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to ensure equal employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. These accommodations vary depending on the specific needs of the applicant or employee. Not all individuals with disabilities, including those with the same condition, require the same accommodations.

Disclosing Asthma at Work

To receive accommodations, it is essential to inform your human resources (HR) department about your asthma condition. Sam initially chose not to disclose her asthma to her boss since her symptoms were mostly under control. However, when cleaning agents began triggering her symptoms, she explained the situation to her supervisor and provided documentation from her healthcare provider.

Your healthcare provider can guide you on what information to share regarding your accommodation request. Disclosing chronic conditions or disabilities in the workplace can be challenging due to fears of discrimination. Although Sam had medical documentation, her employer at the time did not recognize her condition as warranting special accommodation. As a result, Sam resorted to using sick leave whenever her symptoms flared, causing tension with her boss.

No one should experience unlawful discrimination in the workplace. If you have concerns about potential discrimination based on your condition, consider discussing the issue with your HR representative or a high-ranking manager. If the issue remains unresolved, and you believe you have faced unlawful disability discrimination, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or an equivalent state or local agency to file a formal complaint.

Determining ‘Reasonable’ Accommodations

The concept of reasonableness in accommodations is based on various factors, including the severity of your asthma, occupation, workplace environment, and more. According to disability rights lawyer Matthew Cortland, employers must assess each request’s facts and circumstances to determine if it poses an undue hardship. Undue hardship refers to actions requiring significant difficulty or expense.

Employers with significant financial resources may be more likely to consider expensive or challenging accommodations as reasonable. Conversely, smaller employers with fewer financial resources may have different limitations regarding accommodations.

Potential Reasonable Accommodations for Asthma

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offers several potential accommodations that can assist with managing asthma symptoms. These accommodations include:

  • Frequent rest breaks
  • Air purification systems
  • Creating a smoke- and fragrance-free work environment
  • Remote work options
  • Adjusting air temperature and humidity
  • Modifying work location or equipment
  • Using non-toxic cleaning supplies

You can request accommodations during the application process, after receiving a job offer, or at any point during your employment. While verbal requests are acceptable, it is advisable to make the request in writing for documentation purposes.

Following a job change, Sam decided to disclose her asthma to her new employer right away. Her current employers allow her to work in a different part of the building when heavy cleaners are used and adjust the location of meetings to minimize her exposure. Sam also chose to share information about her condition with co-workers outside of HR, which has been beneficial in her new environment.

How to Request a Reasonable Accommodation

As there is no standard accommodation for individuals with asthma, the specific needs vary based on the severity, frequency of symptoms, and environmental triggers. The following steps are suggested if you are considering requesting an accommodation for your asthma symptoms:

  1. Check with your HR department to determine if your employer falls under the ADA’s coverage. Covered entities include state and local governments, labor organizations, employment agencies, and companies with over 15 employees. Even if the ADA does not apply to your employer, you might still be protected under state or local disability discrimination laws.
  2. Research the ADA and consult with your healthcare provider to assess if your asthma symptoms meet the disability eligibility requirements and interfere with essential job functions.
  3. Familiarize yourself with what qualifies as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and what does not.
  4. Engage in a discussion with your employer or HR representative to learn about their policy or procedures for requesting reasonable accommodations. Disclosing your disability status is necessary to be eligible for workplace accommodations under the ADA.
  5. Prepare a list of reasonable accommodations you would like to request.
  6. Present your accommodation request to your employer.

Dealing with Denied Requests

If your request is denied, the first step is to ask your employer for an explanation. The reasonable accommodation request process should involve a meaningful dialogue between the employer and employee. If the denial is due to inadequate medical documentation, you can ask your healthcare provider to provide additional paperwork.

If you suspect that discrimination played a role in the denial, consider escalating the issue within your company. You can approach higher-level individuals in your organization or file a grievance if you belong to a union. Alternatively, you can file a complaint with the EEOC or the relevant agency in your state responsible for enforcing disability protections in the workplace.


Understanding asthma as a potential disability and the availability of reasonable accommodations is crucial for individuals navigating the workplace with this condition. By following the necessary steps and engaging in open communication with employers, employees with asthma can seek the accommodations they need to thrive professionally while managing their health effectively.

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